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Title: The Three Cities Trilogy: Lourdes, Volume 1
Author: Zola, Émile
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "The Three Cities Trilogy: Lourdes, Volume 1" ***

The Three Cities


by Émile Zola

Volume 1.






BEFORE perusing this work, it is as well that the reader should
understand M. Zola’s aim in writing it, and his views—as distinct from
those of his characters—upon Lourdes, its Grotto, and its cures. A
short time before the book appeared M. Zola was interviewed upon the
subject by his friend and biographer, Mr. Robert H. Sherard, to whom he
spoke as follows:

“‘Lourdes’ came to be written by mere accident. In 1891 I happened to
be travelling for my pleasure, with my wife, in the Basque country and
by the Pyrenees, and being in the neighbourhood of Lourdes, included it
in my tour. I spent fifteen days there, and was greatly struck by what
I saw, and it then occurred to me that there was material here for just
the sort of novel that I like to write—a novel in which great masses of
men can be shown in motion—/un grand mouvement de foule/—a novel the
subject of which stirred up my philosophical ideas.

“It was too late then to study the question, for I had visited Lourdes
late in September, and so had missed seeing the best pilgrimage, which
takes place in August, under the direction of the Peres de la
Misericorde, of the Rue de l’Assomption in Paris—the National
Pilgrimage, as it is called. These Fathers are very active,
enterprising men, and have made a great success of this annual national
pilgrimage. Under their direction thirty thousand pilgrims are
transported to Lourdes, including over a thousand sick persons.

“So in the following year I went in August, and saw a national
pilgrimage, and followed it during the three days which it lasts, in
addition to the two days given to travelling. After its departure, I
stayed on ten or twelve days, working up the subject in every detail.
My book is the story of such a national pilgrimage, and is,
accordingly, the story of five days. It is divided into five parts,
each of which parts is limited to one day.

“There are from ninety to one hundred characters in the story: sick
persons, pilgrims, priests, nuns, hospitallers, nurses, and peasants;
and the book shows Lourdes under every aspect. There are the piscinas,
the processions, the Grotto, the churches at night, the people in the
streets. It is, in one word, Lourdes in its entirety. In this canvas is
worked out a very delicate central intrigue, as in ‘Dr. Pascal,’ and
around this are many little stories or subsidiary plots. There is the
story of the sick person who gets well, of the sick person who is not
cured, and so on. The philosophical idea which pervades the whole book
is the idea of human suffering, the exhibition of the desperate and
despairing sufferers who, abandoned by science and by man, address
themselves to a higher Power in the hope of relief; as where parents
have a dearly loved daughter dying of consumption, who has been given
up, and for whom nothing remains but death. A sudden hope, however,
breaks in upon them: ‘supposing that after all there should be a Power
greater than that of man, higher than that of science.’ They will haste
to try this last chance of safety. It is the instinctive hankering
after the lie which creates human credulity.

“I will admit that I came across some instances of real cure. Many
cases of nervous disorders have undoubtedly been cured, and there have
also been other cures which may, perhaps be attributed to errors of
diagnosis on the part of doctors who attended the patients so cured.
Often a patient is described by his doctor as suffering from
consumption. He goes to Lourdes, and is cured. However, the probability
is that the doctor made a mistake. In my own case I was at one time
suffering from a violent pain in my chest, which presented all the
symptoms of /angina pectoris/, a mortal malady. It was nothing of the
sort. Indigestion, doubtless, and, as such, curable. Remember that most
of the sick persons who go to Lourdes come from the country, and that
the country doctors are not usually men of either great skill or great
experience. But all doctors mistake symptoms. Put three doctors
together to discuss a case, and in nine cases out of ten they will
disagree in their diagnosis. Look at the quantities of tumours,
swellings, and sores, which cannot be properly classified. These cures
are based on the ignorance of the medical profession. The sick pretend,
believe, that they suffer from such and such a desperate malady,
whereas it is from some other malady that they are suffering. And so
the legend forms itself. And, of course, there must be cures out of so
large a number of cases. Nature often cures without medical aid.
Certainly, many of the workings of Nature are wonderful, but they are
not supernatural. The Lourdes miracles can neither be proved nor
denied. The miracle is based on human ignorance. And so the doctor who
lives at Lourdes, and who is commissioned to register the cures and to
tabulate the miracles, has a very careless time of it. A person comes,
and gets cured. He has but to get three doctors together to examine the
case. They will disagree as to what was the disease from which the
patient suffered, and the only explanation left which will be
acceptable to the public, with its hankering after the lie, is that a
miracle has been vouchsafed.

“I interviewed a number of people at Lourdes, and could not find one
who would declare that he had witnessed a miracle. All the cases which
I describe in my book are real cases, in which I have only changed the
names of the persons concerned. In none of these instances was I able
to discover any real proof for or against the miraculous nature of the
cure. Thus, in the case of Clementine Trouve, who figures in my story
as Sophie—the patient who, after suffering for a long time from a
horrid open sore on her foot, was suddenly cured, according to current
report, by bathing her foot in the piscina, where the bandages fell
off, and her foot was entirely restored to a healthy condition—I
investigated that case thoroughly. I was told that there were three or
four ladies living in Lourdes who could guarantee the facts as stated
by little Clementine. I looked up those ladies. The first said No, she
could not vouch for anything. She had seen nothing. I had better
consult somebody else. The next answered in the same way, and nowhere
was I able to find any corroboration of the girl’s story. Yet the
little girl did not look like a liar, and I believe that she was fully
convinced of the miraculous nature of her cure. It is the facts
themselves which lie.

“Lourdes, the Grotto, the cures, the miracles, are, indeed, the
creation of that need of the Lie, that necessity for credulity, which
is a characteristic of human nature. At first, when little Bernadette
came with her strange story of what she had witnessed, everybody was
against her. The Prefect of the Department, the Bishop, the clergy,
objected to her story. But Lourdes grew up in spite of all opposition,
just as the Christian religion did, because suffering humanity in its
despair must cling to something, must have some hope; and, on the other
hand, because humanity thirsts after illusions. In a word, it is the
story of the foundation of all religions.”

To the foregoing account of “Lourdes” as supplied by its author, it may
be added that the present translation, first made from early proofs of
the French original whilst the latter was being completed, has for the
purposes of this new American edition been carefully and extensively
revised by Mr. E. A. Vizetelly,—M. Zola’s representative for all
English-speaking countries. “Lourdes” forms the first volume of the
“Trilogy of the Three Cities,” the second being “Rome,” and the third




THE pilgrims and patients, closely packed on the hard seats of a
third-class carriage, were just finishing the “Ave maris Stella,” which
they had begun to chant on leaving the terminus of the Orleans line,
when Marie, slightly raised on her couch of misery and restless with
feverish impatience, caught sight of the Paris fortifications through
the window of the moving train.

“Ah, the fortifications!” she exclaimed, in a tone which was joyous
despite her suffering. “Here we are, out of Paris; we are off at last!”

Her delight drew a smile from her father, M. de Guersaint, who sat in
front of her, whilst Abbe Pierre Froment, who was looking at her with
fraternal affection, was so carried away by his compassionate anxiety
as to say aloud: “And now we are in for it till to-morrow morning. We
shall only reach Lourdes at three-forty. We have more than
two-and-twenty hours’ journey before us.”

It was half-past five, the sun had risen, radiant in the pure sky of a
delightful morning. It was a Friday, the 19th of August. On the
horizon, however, some small, heavy clouds already presaged a terrible
day of stormy heat. And the oblique sunrays were enfilading the
compartments of the railway carriage, filling them with dancing, golden

“Yes, two-and-twenty hours,” murmured Marie, relapsing into a state of
anguish. “/Mon Dieu/! what a long time we must still wait!”

Then her father helped her to lie down again in the narrow box, a kind
of wooden gutter, in which she had been living for seven years past.
Making an exception in her favour, the railway officials had consented
to take as luggage the two pairs of wheels which could be removed from
the box, or fitted to it whenever it became necessary to transport her
from place to place. Packed between the sides of this movable coffin,
she occupied the room of three passengers on the carriage seat; and for
a moment she lay there with eyes closed. Although she was
three-and-twenty; her ashen, emaciated face was still delicately
infantile, charming despite everything, in the midst of her marvellous
fair hair, the hair of a queen, which illness had respected. Clad with
the utmost simplicity in a gown of thin woollen stuff, she wore,
hanging from her neck, the card bearing her name and number, which
entitled her to
/hospitalisation/, or free treatment. She herself had insisted on
/making the
journey in this humble fashion, not wishing to be a source of expense
to her relatives, who little by little had fallen into very straitened
circumstances. And thus it was that she found herself in a third-class
carriage of the “white train,” the train which carried the greatest
sufferers, the most woeful of the fourteen trains going to Lourdes that
day, the one in which, in addition to five hundred healthy pilgrims,
nearly three hundred unfortunate wretches, weak to the point of
exhaustion, racked by suffering, were heaped together, and borne at
express speed from one to the other end of France.

Sorry that he had saddened her, Pierre continued to gaze at her with
the air of a compassionate elder brother. He had just completed his
thirtieth year, and was pale and slight, with a broad forehead. After
busying himself with all the arrangements for the journey, he had been
desirous of accompanying her, and, having obtained admission among the
Hospitallers of Our Lady of Salvation as an auxiliary member, wore on
his cassock the red, orange-tipped cross of a bearer. M. de Guersaint
on his side had simply pinned the little scarlet cross of the
pilgrimage on his grey cloth jacket. The idea of travelling appeared to
delight him; although he was over fifty he still looked young, and,
with his eyes ever wandering over the landscape, he seemed unable to
keep his head still—a bird-like head it was, with an expression of good
nature and absent-mindedness.

However, in spite of the violent shaking of the train, which constantly
drew sighs from Marie, Sister Hyacinthe had risen to her feet in the
adjoining compartment. She noticed that the sun’s rays were streaming
in the girl’s face.

“Pull down the blind, Monsieur l’Abbe,” she said to Pierre. “Come,
come, we must install ourselves properly, and set our little household
in order.”

Clad in the black robe of a Sister of the Assumption, enlivened by a
white coif, a white wimple, and a large white apron, Sister Hyacinthe
smiled, the picture of courageous activity. Her youth bloomed upon her
small, fresh lips, and in the depths of her beautiful blue eyes, whose
expression was ever gentle. She was not pretty, perhaps, still she was
charming, slender, and tall, the bib of her apron covering her flat
chest like that of a young man; one of good heart, displaying a snowy
complexion, and overflowing with health, gaiety, and innocence.

“But this sun is already roasting us,” said she; “pray pull down your
blind as well, madame.”

Seated in the corner, near the Sister, was Madame de Jonquiere, who had
kept her little bag on her lap. She slowly pulled down the blind. Dark,
and well built, she was still nice-looking, although she had a
daughter, Raymonde, who was four-and-twenty, and whom for motives of
propriety she had placed in the charge of two lady-hospitallers, Madame
Desagneaux and Madame Volmar, in a first-class carriage. For her part,
directress as she was of a ward of the Hospital of Our Lady of Dolours
at Lourdes, she did not quit her patients; and outside, swinging
against the door of her compartment, was the regulation placard bearing
under her own name those of the two Sisters of the Assumption who
accompanied her. The widow of a ruined man, she lived with her daughter
on the scanty income of four or five thousand francs a year, at the
rear of a courtyard in the Rue Vanneau. But her charity was
inexhaustible, and she gave all her time to the work of the Hospitality
of Our Lady of Salvation, an institution whose red cross she wore on
her gown of carmelite poplin, and whose aims she furthered with the
most active zeal. Of a somewhat proud disposition, fond of being
flattered and loved, she took great delight in this annual journey,
from which both her heart and her passion derived contentment.

“You are right, Sister,” she said, “we will organise matters. I really
don’t know why I am encumbering myself with this bag.”

And thereupon she placed it under the seat, near her.

“Wait a moment,” resumed Sister Hyacinthe; “you have the water-can
between your legs—it is in your way.”

“No, no, it isn’t, I assure you. Let it be. It must always be

Then they both set their house in order as they expressed it, so that
for a day and a night they might live with their patients as
comfortably as possible. The worry was that they had not been able to
take Marie into their compartment, as she wished to have Pierre and her
father near her; however neighbourly intercourse was easy enough over
the low partition. Moreover the whole carriage, with its five
compartments of ten seats each, formed but one moving chamber, a common
room as it were which the eye took in at a glance from end to end.
Between its wooden walls, bare and yellow, under its white-painted
panelled roof, it showed like a hospital ward, with all the disorder
and promiscuous jumbling together of an improvised ambulance. Basins,
brooms, and sponges lay about, half-hidden by the seats. Then, as the
train only carried such luggage as the pilgrims could take with them,
there were valises, deal boxes, bonnet boxes, and bags, a wretched pile
of poor worn-out things mended with bits of string, heaped up a little
bit everywhere; and overhead the litter began again, what with articles
of clothing, parcels, and baskets hanging from brass pegs and swinging
to and fro without a pause.

Amidst all this frippery the more afflicted patients, stretched on
their narrow mattresses, which took up the room of several passengers,
were shaken, carried along by the rumbling gyrations of the wheels;
whilst those who were able to remain seated, leaned against the
partitions, their faces pale, their heads resting upon pillows.
According to the regulations there should have been one
lady-hospitaller to each compartment. However, at the other end of the
carriage there was but a second Sister of the Assumption, Sister Claire
des Anges. Some of the pilgrims who were in good health were already
getting up, eating and drinking. One compartment was entirely occupied
by women, ten pilgrims closely pressed together, young ones and old
ones, all sadly, pitifully ugly. And as nobody dared to open the
windows on account of the consumptives in the carriage, the heat was
soon felt and an unbearable odour arose, set free as it were by the
jolting of the train as it went its way at express speed.

They had said their chaplets at Juvisy; and six o’clock was striking,
and they were rushing like a hurricane past the station of Bretigny,
when Sister Hyacinthe stood up. It was she who directed the pious
exercises, which most of the pilgrims followed from small, blue-covered

“The Angelus, my children,” said she with a pleasant smile, a maternal
air which her great youth rendered very charming and sweet.

Then the “Aves” again followed one another, and were drawing to an end
when Pierre and Marie began to feel interested in two women who
occupied the other corner seats of their compartment. One of them, she
who sat at Marie’s feet, was a blonde of slender build and /bourgeoise/
appearance, some thirty and odd years of age, and faded before she had
grown old. She shrank back, scarcely occupying any room, wearing a dark
dress, and showing colourless hair, and a long grief-stricken face
which expressed unlimited self-abandonment, infinite sadness. The woman
in front of her, she who sat on the same seat as Pierre, was of the
same age, but belonged to the working classes. She wore a black cap and
displayed a face ravaged by wretchedness and anxiety, whilst on her lap
she held a little girl of seven, who was so pale, so wasted by illness,
that she scarcely seemed four. With her nose contracted, her eyelids
lowered and showing blue in her waxen face, the child was unable to
speak, unable to give utterance to more than a low plaint, a gentle
moan, which rent the heart of her mother, leaning over her, each time
that she heard it.

“Would she eat a few grapes?” timidly asked the lady, who had hitherto
preserved silence. “I have some in my basket.”

“Thank you, madame,” replied the woman, “she only takes milk, and
sometimes not even that willingly. I took care to bring a bottleful
with me.”

Then, giving way to the desire which possesses the wretched to confide
their woes to others, she began to relate her story. Her name was
Vincent, and her husband, a gilder by trade, had been carried off by
consumption. Left alone with her little Rose, who was the passion of
her heart, she had worked by day and night at her calling as a
dressmaker in order to bring the child up. But disease had come, and
for fourteen months now she had had her in her arms like that, growing
more and more woeful and wasted until reduced almost to nothingness.
She, the mother, who never went to mass, entered a church, impelled by
despair to pray for her daughter’s cure; and there she had heard a
voice which had told her to take the little one to Lourdes, where the
Blessed Virgin would have pity on her. Acquainted with nobody, not
knowing even how the pilgrimages were organised, she had had but one
idea—to work, save up the money necessary for the journey, take a
ticket, and start off with the thirty sous remaining to her, destitute
of all supplies save a bottle of milk for the child, not having even
thought of purchasing a crust of bread for herself.

“What is the poor little thing suffering from?” resumed the lady.

“Oh, it must be consumption of the bowels, madame! But the doctors have
names they give it. At first she only had slight pains in the stomach.
Then her stomach began to swell and she suffered, oh, so dreadfully! it
made one cry to see her. Her stomach has gone down now, only she’s worn
out; she has got so thin that she has no legs left her, and she’s
wasting away with continual sweating.”

Then, as Rose, raising her eyelids, began to moan, her mother leant
over her, distracted and turning pale. “What is the matter, my jewel,
my treasure?” she asked. “Are you thirsty?”

But the little girl was already closing her dim eyes of a hazy sky-blue
hue, and did not even answer, but relapsed into her torpor, quite white
in the white frock she wore—a last coquetry on the part of her mother,
who had gone to this useless expense in the hope that the Virgin would
be more compassionate and gentle to a little sufferer who was well
dressed, so immaculately white.

There was an interval of silence, and then Madame Vincent inquired:
“And you, madame, it’s for yourself no doubt that you are going to
Lourdes? One can see very well that you are ill.”

But the lady, with a frightened look, shrank woefully into her corner,
murmuring: “No, no, I am not ill. Would to God that I were! I should
suffer less.”

Her name was Madame Maze, and her heart was full of an incurable grief.
After a love marriage to a big, gay fellow with ripe, red lips, she had
found herself deserted at the end of a twelvemonth’s honeymoon. Ever
travelling, following the profession of a jeweller’s bagman, her
husband, who earned a deal of money, would disappear for six months at
a stretch, deceive her from one frontier to the other of France, at
times even carrying creatures about with him. And she worshipped him;
she suffered so frightfully from it all that she had sought a remedy in
religion, and had at last made up her mind to repair to Lourdes, in
order to pray the Virgin to restore her husband to her and make him
amend his ways.

Although Madame Vincent did not understand the other’s words, she
realised that she was a prey to great mental affliction, and they
continued looking at one another, the mother, whom the sight of her
dying daughter was killing, and the abandoned wife, whom her passion
cast into throes of death-like agony.

However, Pierre, who, like Marie, had been listening to the
conversation, now intervened. He was astonished that the dressmaker had
not sought free treatment for her little patient. The Association of
Our Lady of Salvation had been founded by the Augustine Fathers of the
Assumption after the Franco-German war, with the object of contributing
to the salvation of France and the defence of the Church by prayer in
common and the practice of charity; and it was this association which
had promoted the great pilgrimage movement, in particular initiating
and unremittingly extending the national pilgrimage which every year,
towards the close of August, set out for Lourdes. An elaborate
organisation had been gradually perfected, donations of considerable
amounts were collected in all parts of the world, sufferers were
enrolled in every parish, and agreements were signed with the railway
companies, to say nothing of the active help of the Little Sisters of
the Assumption and the establishment of the Hospitality of Our Lady of
Salvation, a widespread brotherhood of the benevolent, in which one
beheld men and women, mostly belonging to society, who, under the
orders of the pilgrimage managers, nursed the sick, helped to transport
them, and watched over the observance of good discipline. A written
request was needed for the sufferers to obtain hospitalisation, which
dispensed them from making the smallest payment in respect either of
their journey or their sojourn; they were fetched from their homes and
conveyed back thither; and they simply had to provide a few provisions
for the road. By far the greater number were recommended by priests or
benevolent persons, who superintended the inquiries concerning them and
obtained the needful papers, such as doctors’ certificates and
certificates of birth. And, these matters being settled, the sick ones
had nothing further to trouble about, they became but so much suffering
flesh, food for miracles, in the hands of the hospitallers of either

“But you need only have applied to your parish priest, madame,” Pierre
explained. “This poor child is deserving of all sympathy. She would
have been immediately admitted.”

“I did not know it, monsieur l’Abbe.”

“Then how did you manage?”

“Why, Monsieur l’Abbe, I went to take a ticket at a place which one of
my neighbours, who reads the newspapers, told me about.”

She was referring to the tickets, at greatly reduced rates, which were
issued to the pilgrims possessed of means. And Marie, listening to her,
felt great pity for her, and also some shame; for she who was not
entirely destitute of resources had succeeded in obtaining
/hospitalisation/, thanks to Pierre, whereas that mother and her sorry
child, after exhausting their scanty savings, remained without a

However, a more violent jolt of the carriage drew a cry of pain from
the girl. “Oh, father,” she said, “pray raise me a little! I can’t stay
on my back any longer.”

When M. de Guersaint had helped her into a sitting posture, she gave a
deep sigh of relief. They were now at Etampes, after a run of an hour
and a half from Paris, and what with the increased warmth of the sun,
the dust, and the noise, weariness was becoming apparent already.
Madame de Jonquiere had got up to speak a few words of kindly
encouragement to Marie over the partition; and Sister Hyacinthe
moreover again rose, and gaily clapped her hands that she might be
heard and obeyed from one to the other end of the carriage.

“Come, come!” said she, “we mustn’t think of our little troubles. Let
us pray and sing, and the Blessed Virgin will be with us.”

She herself then began the rosary according to the rite of Our Lady of
Lourdes, and all the patients and pilgrims followed her. This was the
first chaplet—the five joyful mysteries, the Annunciation, the
Visitation, the Nativity, the Purification, and Jesus found in the
Temple. Then they all began to chant the canticle: “Let us contemplate
the heavenly Archangel!” Their voices were lost amid the loud rumbling
of the wheels; you heard but the muffled surging of that human wave,
stifling within the closed carriage which rolled on and on without a

Although M. de Guersaint was a worshipper, he could never follow a hymn
to the end. He got up, sat down again, and finished by resting his
elbow on the partition and conversing in an undertone with a patient
who sat against this same partition in the next compartment. The
patient in question was a thick-set man of fifty, with a good-natured
face and a large head, completely bald. His name was Sabathier, and for
fifteen years he had been stricken with ataxia. He only suffered pain
by fits and starts, but he had quite lost the use of his legs, which
his wife, who accompanied him, moved for him as though they had been
dead legs, whenever they became too heavy, weighty like bars of lead.

“Yes, monsieur,” he said, “such as you see me, I was formerly
fifth-class professor at the Lycee Charlemagne. At first I thought that
it was mere sciatica, but afterwards I was seized with sharp,
lightning-like pains, red-hot sword thrusts, you know, in the muscles.
For nearly ten years the disease kept on mastering me more and more. I
consulted all the doctors, tried every imaginable mineral spring, and
now I suffer less, but I can no longer move from my seat. And then,
after long living without a thought of religion, I was led back to God
by the idea that I was too wretched, and that Our Lady of Lourdes could
not do otherwise than take pity on me.”

Feeling interested, Pierre in his turn had leant over the partition and
was listening.

“Is it not so, Monsieur l’Abbe?” continued M. Sabathier. “Is not
suffering the best awakener of souls? This is the seventh year that I
am going to Lourdes without despairing of cure. This year the Blessed
Virgin will cure me, I feel sure of it. Yes, I expect to be able to
walk about again; I now live solely in that hope.”

M. Sabathier paused, he wished his wife to push his legs a little more
to the left; and Pierre looked at him, astonished to find such
obstinate faith in a man of intellect, in one of those university
professors who, as a rule, are such Voltairians. How could the belief
in miracles have germinated and taken root in this man’s brain? As he
himself said, great suffering alone explained this need of illusion,
this blossoming of eternal and consolatory hope.

“And my wife and I,” resumed the ex-professor, “are dressed, you see,
as poor folks, for I wished to go as a mere pauper this year, and
applied for /hospitalisation/ in a spirit of humility in order that the
Blessed Virgin might include me among the wretched, her children—only,
as I did not wish to take the place of a real pauper, I gave fifty
francs to the Hospitalite, and this, as you are aware, gives one the
right to have a patient of one’s own in the pilgrimage. I even know my
patient. He was introduced to me at the railway station. He is
suffering from tuberculosis, it appears, and seemed to me very low,
very low.”

A fresh interval of silence ensued. “Well,” said M. Sabathier at last,
“may the Blessed Virgin save him also, she who can do everything. I
shall be so happy; she will have loaded me with favours.”

Then the three men, isolating themselves from the others, went on
conversing together, at first on medical subjects, and at last
diverging into a discussion on romanesque architecture, /a propos/ of a
steeple which they had perceived on a hillside, and which every pilgrim
had saluted with a sign of the cross. Swayed once more by the habits of
cultivated intellect, the young priest and his two companions forgot
themselves together in the midst of their fellow-passengers, all those
poor, suffering, simple-minded folk, whom wretchedness stupefied.
Another hour went by, two more canticles had just been sung, and the
stations of Toury and Les Aubrais had been left behind, when, at
Beaugency, they at last ceased their chat, on hearing Sister Hyacinthe
clap her hands and intonate in her fresh, sonorous voice:

“/Parce, Domine, parce populo tuo/.”

And then the chant went on; all voices became mingled in that
ever-surging wave of prayer which stilled pain, excited hope, and
little by little penetrated the entire being, harassed by the haunting
thought of the grace and cure which one and all were going to seek so
far away.

However, as Pierre sat down again, he saw that Marie was very pale, and
had her eyes closed. By the painful contraction of her features he
could tell that she was not asleep. “Are you in great suffering?” he

“Yes, yes, I suffer dreadfully. I shall never last to the end. It is
this incessant jolting.”

She moaned, raised her eyelids, and, half-fainting, remained in a
sitting posture, her eyes turned on the other sufferers. In the
adjoining compartment, La Grivotte, hitherto stretched out, scarce
breathing, like a corpse, had just raised herself up in front of M.
Sabathier. She was a tall, slip-shod, singular-looking creature of over
thirty, with a round, ravaged face, which her frizzy hair and flaming
eyes rendered almost pretty. She had reached the third stage of

“Eh, mademoiselle,” she said, addressing herself in a hoarse,
indistinct voice to Marie, “how nice it would be if we could only doze
off a little. But it can’t be managed; all these wheels keep on
whirling round and round in one’s head.”

Then, although it fatigued her to speak, she obstinately went on
talking, volunteering particulars about herself. She was a
mattress-maker, and with one of her aunts had long gone from yard to
yard at Bercy to comb and sew up mattresses. And, indeed, it was to the
pestilential wool which she had combed in her youth that she ascribed
her malady. For five years she had been making the round of the
hospitals of Paris, and she spoke familiarly of all the great doctors.
It was the Sisters of Charity, at the Lariboisiere hospital, who,
finding that she had a passion for religious ceremonies, had completed
her conversion, and convinced her that the Virgin awaited her at
Lourdes to cure her.

“I certainly need it,” said she. “The doctors say that I have one lung
done for, and that the other one is scarcely any better. There are
great big holes you know. At first I only felt bad between the
shoulders and spat up some froth. But then I got thin, and became a
dreadful sight. And now I’m always in a sweat, and cough till I think
I’m going to bring my heart up. And I can no longer spit. And I haven’t
the strength to stand, you see. I can’t eat.”

A stifling sensation made her pause, and she became livid.

“All the same I prefer being in my skin instead of in that of the
Brother in the compartment behind you. He has the same complaint as I
have, but he is in a worse state that I am.”

She was mistaken. In the farther compartment, beyond Marie, there was
indeed a young missionary, Brother Isidore, who was lying on a mattress
and could not be seen, since he was unable to raise even a finger. But
he was not suffering from phthisis. He was dying of inflammation of the
liver, contracted in Senegal. Very long and lank, he had a yellow face,
with skin as dry and lifeless as parchment. The abscess which had
formed in his liver had ended by breaking out externally, and amidst
the continuous shivering of fever, vomiting, and delirium, suppuration
was exhausting him. His eyes alone were still alive, eyes full of
unextinguishable love, whose flame lighted up his expiring face, a
peasant face such as painters have given to the crucified Christ,
common, but rendered sublime at moments by its expression of faith and
passion. He was a Breton, the last puny child of an over-numerous
family, and had left his little share of land to his elder brothers.
One of his sisters, Marthe, older than himself by a couple of years,
accompanied him. She had been in service in Paris, an insignificant
maid-of-all-work, but withal so devoted to her brother that she had
left her situation to follow him, subsisting scantily on her petty

“I was lying on the platform,” resumed La Grivotte, “when he was put in
the carriage. There were four men carrying him—”

But she was unable to speak any further, for just then an attack of
coughing shook her and threw her back upon the seat. She was
suffocating, and the red flush on her cheek-bones turned blue. Sister
Hyacinthe, however, immediately raised her head and wiped her lips with
a linen cloth, which became spotted with blood. At the same time Madame
de Jonquiere gave her attention to a patient in front of her, who had
just fainted. She was called Madame Vetu, and was the wife of a petty
clockmaker of the Mouffetard district, who had not been able to shut up
his shop in order to accompany her to Lourdes. And to make sure that
she would be cared for she had sought and obtained /hospitalisation/.
The fear of death was bringing her back to religion, although she had
not set foot in church since her first communion. She knew that she was
lost, that a cancer in the chest was eating into her; and she already
had the haggard, orange-hued mark of the cancerous patient. Since the
beginning of the journey she had not spoken a word, but, suffering
terribly, had remained with her lips tightly closed. Then all at once,
she had swooned away after an attack of vomiting.

“It is unbearable!” murmured Madame de Jonquiere, who herself felt
faint; “we must let in a little fresh air.”

Sister Hyacinthe was just then laying La Grivotte to rest on her
pillows, “Certainly,” said she, “we will open the window for a few
moments. But not on this side, for I am afraid we might have a fresh
fit of coughing. Open the window on your side, madame.”

The heat was still increasing, and the occupants of the carriage were
stifling in that heavy evil-smelling atmosphere. The pure air which
came in when the window was opened brought relief however. For a moment
there were other duties to be attended to, a clearance and cleansing.
The Sister emptied the basins out of the window, whilst the
lady-hospitaller wiped the shaking floor with a sponge. Next, things
had to be set in order; and then came a fresh anxiety, for the fourth
patient, a slender girl whose face was entirely covered by a black
fichu, and who had not yet moved, was saying that she felt hungry.

With quiet devotion Madame de Jonquiere immediately tendered her
services. “Don’t you trouble, Sister,” she said, “I will cut her bread
into little bits for her.”

Marie, with the need she felt of diverting her mind from her own
sufferings, had already begun to take an interest in that motionless
sufferer whose countenance was so thickly veiled, for she not
unnaturally suspected that it was a case of some distressing facial
sore. She had merely been told that the patient was a servant, which
was true, but it happened that the poor creature, a native of Picardy,
named Elise Rouquet, had been obliged to leave her situation, and seek
a home with a sister who ill-treated her, for no hospital would take
her in. Extremely devout, she had for many months been possessed by an
ardent desire to go to Lourdes.

While Marie, with dread in her heart, waited for the fichu to be moved
aside, Madame de Jonquiere, having cut some bread into small pieces,
inquired maternally: “Are they small enough? Can you put them into your

Thereupon a hoarse voice growled confused words under the black fichu:
“Yes, yes, madame.” And at last the veil fell and Marie shuddered with

It was a case of lupus which had preyed upon the unhappy woman’s nose
and mouth. Ulceration had spread, and was hourly spreading—in short,
all the hideous peculiarities of this terrible disease were in full
process of development, almost obliterating the traces of what once
were pleasing womanly lineaments.

“Oh, look, Pierre!” Marie murmured, trembling. The priest in his turn
shuddered as he beheld Elise Rouquet cautiously slipping the tiny
pieces of bread into her poor shapeless mouth. Everyone in the carriage
had turned pale at sight of the awful apparition. And the same thought
ascended from all those hope-inflated souls. Ah! Blessed Virgin,
Powerful Virgin, what a miracle indeed if such an ill were cured!

“We must not think of ourselves, my children, if we wish to get well,”
resumed Sister Hyacinthe, who still retained her encouraging smile.

And then she made them say the second chaplet, the five sorrowful
mysteries: Jesus in the Garden of Olives, Jesus scourged, Jesus crowned
with thorns, Jesus carrying the cross, and Jesus crucified. Afterwards
came the canticle: “In thy help, Virgin, do I put my trust.”

They had just passed through Blois; for three long hours they had been
rolling onward; and Marie, who had averted her eyes from Elise Rouquet,
now turned them upon a man who occupied a corner seat in the
compartment on her left, that in which Brother Isidore was lying. She
had noticed this man several times already. Poorly clad in an old black
frock-coat, he looked still young, although his sparse beard was
already turning grey; and, short and emaciated, he seemed to experience
great suffering, his fleshless, livid face being covered with sweat.
However, he remained motionless, ensconced in his corner, speaking to
nobody, but staring straight before him with dilated eyes. And all at
once Marie noticed that his eyelids were falling, and that he was
fainting away.

She thereupon drew Sister’s Hyacinthe’s attention to him: “Look,
Sister! One would think that that gentleman is dangerously ill.”

“Which one, my dear child?”

“That one, over there, with his head thrown back.”

General excitement followed, all the healthy pilgrims rose up to look,
and it occurred to Madame de Jonquiere to call to Marthe, Brother
Isidore’s sister, and tell her to tap the man’s hands.

“Question him,” she added; “ask what ails him.”

Marthe drew near, shook the man, and questioned him.

But instead of an answer only a rattle came from his throat, and his
eyes remained closed.

Then a frightened voice was heard saying, “I think he is going to die.”

The dread increased, words flew about, advice was tendered from one to
the other end of the carriage. Nobody knew the man. He had certainly
not obtained
/hospitalisation/, for no white card was hanging from his neck.
related, however, that he had seen him arrive, dragging himself along,
but three minutes or so before the train started; and that he had
remained quite motionless, scarce breathing, ever since he had flung
himself with an air of intense weariness into that corner, where he was
now apparently dying. His ticket was at last seen protruding from under
the band of an old silk hat which was hung from a peg near him.

“Ah, he is breathing again now!” Sister Hyacinthe suddenly exclaimed.
“Ask him his name.”

However, on being again questioned by Marthe, the man merely gave vent
to a low plaint, an exclamation scarcely articulated, “Oh, how I

And thenceforward that was the only answer that could be obtained from
him. With reference to everything that they wished to know, who he was,
whence he came, what his illness was, what could be done for him, he
gave no information, but still and ever continued moaning, “Oh, how I
suffer—how I suffer!”

Sister Hyacinthe grew restless with impatience. Ah, if she had only
been in the same compartment with him! And she resolved that she would
change her seat at the first station they should stop at. Only there
would be no stoppage for a long time. The position was becoming
terrible, the more so as the man’s head again fell back.

“He is dying, he is dying!” repeated the frightened voice.

What was to be done, /mon Dieu/? The Sister was aware that one of the
Fathers of the Assumption, Father Massias, was in the train with the
Holy Oils, ready to administer extreme unction to the dying; for every
year some of the patients passed away during the journey. But she did
not dare to have recourse to the alarm signal. Moreover, in the
/cantine/ van where Sister Saint Francois officiated, there was a
doctor with a little medicine chest. If the sufferer should survive
until they reached Poitiers, where there would be half an hour’s
stoppage, all possible help might be given to him.

But on the other hand he might suddenly expire. However, they ended by
becoming somewhat calmer. The man, though still unconscious, began to
breathe in a more regular manner, and seemed to fall asleep.

“To think of it, to die before getting there,” murmured Marie with a
shudder, “to die in sight of the promised land!” And as her father
sought to reassure her she added: “I am suffering—I am suffering
dreadfully myself.”

“Have confidence,” said Pierre; “the Blessed Virgin is watching over

She could no longer remain seated, and it became necessary to replace
her in a recumbent position in her narrow coffin. Her father and the
priest had to take every precaution in doing so, for the slightest hurt
drew a moan from her. And she lay there breathless, like one dead, her
face contracted by suffering, and surrounded by her regal fair hair.
They had now been rolling on, ever rolling on for nearly four hours.
And if the carriage was so greatly shaken, with an unbearable spreading
tendency, it was from its position at the rear part of the train. The
coupling irons shrieked, the wheels growled furiously; and as it was
necessary to leave the windows partially open, the dust came in, acrid
and burning; but it was especially the heat which grew terrible, a
devouring, stormy heat falling from a tawny sky which large hanging
clouds had slowly covered. The hot carriages, those rolling boxes where
the pilgrims ate and drank, where the sick lay in a vitiated
atmosphere, amid dizzying moans, prayers, and hymns, became like so
many furnaces.

And Marie was not the only one whose condition had been aggravated;
others also were suffering from the journey. Resting in the lap of her
despairing mother, who gazed at her with large, tear-blurred eyes,
little Rose had ceased to stir, and had grown so pale that Madame Maze
had twice leant forward to feel her hands, fearful lest she should find
them cold. At each moment also Madame Sabathier had to move her
husband’s legs, for their weight was so great, said he, that it seemed
as if his hips were being torn from him. Brother Isidore too had just
begun to cry out, emerging from his wonted torpor; and his sister had
only been able to assuage his sufferings by raising him, and clasping
him in her arms. La Grivotte seemed to be asleep, but a continuous
hiccoughing shook her, and a tiny streamlet of blood dribbled from her
mouth. Madame Vetu had again vomited, Elise Rouquet no longer thought
of hiding the frightful sore open on her face. And from the man yonder,
breathing hard, there still came a lugubrious rattle, as though he were
at every moment on the point of expiring. In vain did Madame de
Jonquiere and Sister Hyacinthe lavish their attentions on the patients,
they could but slightly assuage so much suffering. At times it all
seemed like an evil dream—that carriage of wretchedness and pain,
hurried along at express speed, with a continuous shaking and jolting
which made everything hanging from the pegs—the old clothes, the
worn-out baskets mended with bits of string—swing to and fro
incessantly. And in the compartment at the far end, the ten female
pilgrims, some old, some young, and all pitifully ugly, sang on without
a pause in cracked voices, shrill and dreary.

Then Pierre began to think of the other carriages of the train, that
white train which conveyed most, if not all, of the more seriously
afflicted patients; these carriages were rolling along, all displaying
similar scenes of suffering among the three hundred sick and five
hundred healthy pilgrims crowded within them. And afterwards he thought
of the other trains which were leaving Paris that day, the grey train
and the blue train* which had preceded the white one, the green train,
the yellow train, the pink train, the orange train which were following
it. From hour to hour trains set out from one to the other end of
France. And he thought, too, of those which that same morning had
started from Orleans, Le Mans, Poitiers, Bordeaux, Marseilles, and
Carcassonne. Coming from all parts, trains were rushing across that
land of France at the same hour, all directing their course yonder
towards the holy Grotto, bringing thirty thousand patients and pilgrims
to the Virgin’s feet. And he reflected that other days of the year
witnessed a like rush of human beings, that not a week went by without
Lourdes beholding the arrival of some pilgrimage; that it was not
merely France which set out on the march, but all Europe, the whole
world; that in certain years of great religious fervour there had been
three hundred thousand, and even five hundred thousand, pilgrims and
patients streaming to the spot.

* Different-coloured tickets are issued for these trains; it is for
this reason that they are called the white, blue, and grey trains,

Pierre fancied that he could hear those flying trains, those trains
from everywhere, all converging towards the same rocky cavity where the
tapers were blazing. They all rumbled loudly amid the cries of pain and
snatches of hymns wafted from their carriages. They were the rolling
hospitals of disease at its last stage, of human suffering rushing to
the hope of cure, furiously seeking consolation between attacks of
increased severity, with the ever-present threat of death—death
hastened, supervening under awful conditions, amidst the mob-like
scramble. They rolled on, they rolled on again and again, they rolled
on without a pause, carrying the wretchedness of the world on its way
to the divine illusion, the health of the infirm, the consolation of
the afflicted.

And immense pity overflowed from Pierre’s heart, human compassion for
all the suffering and all the tears that consumed weak and naked men.
He was sad unto death and ardent charity burnt within him, the
unextinguishable flame as it were of his fraternal feelings towards all
things and beings.

When they left the station of Saint Pierre des Corps at half-past ten,
Sister Hyacinthe gave the signal, and they recited the third chaplet,
the five glorious mysteries, the Resurrection of Our Lord, the
Ascension of Our Lord, the Mission of the Holy Ghost, the Assumption of
the Most Blessed Virgin, the Crowning of the Most Blessed Virgin. And
afterwards they sang the canticle of Bernadette, that long, long chant,
composed of six times ten couplets, to which the ever recurring Angelic
Salutation serves as a refrain—a prolonged lullaby slowly besetting one
until it ends by penetrating one’s entire being, transporting one into
ecstatic sleep, in delicious expectancy of a miracle.


THE green landscapes of Poitou were now defiling before them, and Abbe
Pierre Froment, gazing out of the window, watched the trees fly away
till, little by little, he ceased to distinguish them. A steeple
appeared and then vanished, and all the pilgrims crossed themselves.
They would not reach Poitiers until twelve-thirty-five, and the train
was still rolling on amid the growing weariness of that oppressive,
stormy day. Falling into a deep reverie, the young priest no longer
heard the words of the canticle, which sounded in his ears merely like
a slow, wavy lullaby.

Forgetfulness of the present had come upon him, an awakening of the
past filled his whole being. He was reascending the stream of memory,
reascending it to its source. He again beheld the house at Neuilly,
where he had been born and where he still lived, that home of peace and
toil, with its garden planted with a few fine trees, and parted by a
quickset hedge and palisade from the garden of the neighbouring house,
which was similar to his own. He was again three, perhaps four, years
old, and round a table, shaded by the big horse-chestnut tree he once
more beheld his father, his mother, and his elder brother at
/dejeuner/. To his father, Michel Froment, he could give no distinct
lineaments; he pictured him but faintly, vaguely, renowned as an
illustrious chemist, bearing the title of Member of the Institute, and
leading a cloistered life in the laboratory which he had installed in
that secluded, deserted suburb. However he could plainly see his first
brother Guillaume, then fourteen years of age, whom some holiday had
brought from college that morning, and then and even more vividly his
mother, so gentle and so quiet, with eyes so full of active kindliness.
Later on he learnt what anguish had racked that religious soul, that
believing woman who, from esteem and gratitude, had resignedly accepted
marriage with an unbeliever, her senior by fifteen years, to whom her
relatives were indebted for great services. He, Pierre, the tardy
offspring of this union, born when his father was already near his
fiftieth year, had only known his mother as a respectful, conquered
woman in the presence of her husband, whom she had learnt to love
passionately, with the frightful torment of knowing, however, that he
was doomed to perdition. And, all at once, another memory flashed upon
the young priest, the terrible memory of the day when his father had
died, killed in his laboratory by an accident, the explosion of a
retort. He, Pierre, had then been five years old, and he remembered the
slightest incidents—his mother’s cry when she had found the shattered
body among the remnants of the chemical appliances, then her terror,
her sobs, her prayers at the idea that God had slain the unbeliever,
damned him for evermore. Not daring to burn his books and papers, she
had contented herself with locking up the laboratory, which henceforth
nobody entered. And from that moment, haunted by a vision of hell, she
had had but one idea, to possess herself of her second son, who was
still so young, to give him a strictly religious training, and through
him to ransom her husband—secure his forgiveness from God. Guillaume,
her elder boy, had already ceased to belong to her, having grown up at
college, where he had been won over by the ideas of the century; but
she resolved that the other, the younger one, should not leave the
house, but should have a priest as tutor; and her secret dream, her
consuming hope, was that she might some day see him a priest himself,
saying his first mass and solacing souls whom the thought of eternity

Then between green, leafy boughs, flecked with sunlight, another figure
rose vividly before Pierre’s eyes. He suddenly beheld Marie de
Guersaint as he had seen her one morning through a gap in the hedge
dividing the two gardens. M. de Guersaint, who belonged to the petty
/noblesse/, was a combination of architect and inventor; and he was at
that time busy with a scheme of model dwellings for the poor, to which
churches and schools were to be attached; an affair of considerable
magnitude, planned none too well, however, and in which, with his
customary impetuosity, the lack of foresight of an imperfect artist, he
was risking the three hundred thousand francs that he possessed. A
similarity of religious faith had drawn Madame de Guersaint and Madame
Froment together; but the former was altogether a superior woman,
perspicuous and rigid, with an iron hand which alone prevented her
household from gliding to a catastrophe; and she was bringing up her
two daughters, Blanche and Marie, in principles of narrow piety, the
elder one already being as grave as herself, whilst the younger, albeit
very devout, was still fond of play, with an intensity of life within
her which found vent in gay peals of sonorous laughter. From their
early childhood Pierre and Marie played together, the hedge was ever
being crossed, the two families constantly mingled. And on that clear
sunshiny morning, when he pictured her parting the leafy branches she
was already ten years old. He, who was sixteen, was to enter the
seminary on the following Tuesday. Never had she seemed to him so
pretty. Her hair, of a pure golden hue, was so long that when it was
let down it sufficed to clothe her. Well did he remember her face as it
had been, with round cheeks, blue eyes, red mouth, and skin of
dazzling, snowy whiteness. She was indeed as gay and brilliant as the
sun itself, a transplendency. Yet there were tears at the corners of
her eyes, for she was aware of his coming departure. They sat down
together at the far end of the garden, in the shadow cast by the hedge.
Their hands mingled, and their hearts were very heavy. They had,
however, never exchanged any vows amid their pastimes, for their
innocence was absolute. But now, on the eve of separation, their mutual
tenderness rose to their lips, and they spoke without knowing, swore
that they would ever think of one another, and find one another again,
some day, even as one meets in heaven to be very, very happy. Then,
without understanding how it happened, they clasped each other tightly,
to the point of suffocation, and kissed each other’s face, weeping, the
while, hot tears. And it was that delightful memory which Pierre had
ever carried with him, which he felt alive within him still, after so
many years, and after so many painful renunciations.

Just then a more violent shock roused him from his reverie. He turned
his eyes upon the carriage and vaguely espied the suffering beings it
contained—Madame Maze motionless, overwhelmed with grief; little Rose
gently moaning in her mother’s lap; La Grivotte, whom a hoarse cough
was choking. For a moment Sister Hyacinthe’s gay face shone out amidst
the whiteness of her coif and wimple, dominating all the others. The
painful journey was continuing, with a ray of divine hope still and
ever shining yonder. Then everything slowly vanished from Pierre’s eyes
as a fresh wave of memory brought the past back from afar; and nothing
of the present remained save the lulling hymn, the indistinct voices of
dreamland, emerging from the invisible.

Henceforth he was at the seminary. The classrooms, the recreation
ground with its trees, rose up clearly before him. But all at once he
only beheld, as in a mirror, the youthful face which had then been his,
and he contemplated it and scrutinised it, as though it had been the
face of a stranger. Tall and slender, he had an elongated visage, with
an unusually developed forehead, lofty and straight like a tower;
whilst his jaws tapered, ending in a small refined chin. He seemed, in
fact, to be all brains; his mouth, rather large, alone retained an
expression of tenderness. Indeed, when his usually serious face
relaxed, his mouth and eyes acquired an exceedingly soft expression,
betokening an unsatisfied, hungry desire to love, devote oneself, and
live. But immediately afterwards, the look of intellectual passion
would come back again, that intellectuality which had ever consumed him
with an anxiety to understand and know. And it was with surprise that
he now recalled those years of seminary life. How was it that he had so
long been able to accept the rude discipline of blind faith, of
obedient belief in everything without the slightest examination? It had
been required of him that he should absolutely surrender his reasoning
faculties, and he had striven to do so, had succeeded indeed in
stifling his torturing need of truth. Doubtless he had been softened,
weakened by his mother’s tears, had been possessed by the sole desire
to afford her the great happiness she dreamt of. Yet now he remembered
certain quiverings of revolt; he found in the depths of his mind the
memory of nights which he had spent in weeping without knowing why,
nights peopled with vague images, nights through which galloped the
free, virile life of the world, when Marie’s face incessantly returned
to him, such as he had seen it one morning, dazzling and bathed in
tears, while she embraced him with her whole soul. And that alone now
remained; his years of religious study with their monotonous lessons,
their ever similar exercises and ceremonies, had flown away into the
same haze, into a vague half-light, full of mortal silence.

Then, just as the train had passed though a station at full speed, with
the sudden uproar of its rush there arose within him a succession of
confused visions. He had noticed a large deserted enclosure, and
fancied that he could see himself within it at twenty years of age. His
reverie was wandering. An indisposition of rather long duration had,
however, at one time interrupted his studies, and led to his being sent
into the country. He had remained for a long time without seeing Marie;
during his vacations spent at Neuilly he had twice failed to meet her,
for she was almost always travelling. He knew that she was very ill, in
consequence of a fall from a horse when she was thirteen, a critical
moment in a girl’s life; and her despairing mother, perplexed by the
contradictory advice of medical men, was taking her each year to a
different watering-place. Then he learnt the startling news of the
sudden tragical death of that mother, who was so severe and yet so
useful to her kin. She had been carried off in five days by
inflammation of the lungs, which she had contracted one evening whilst
she was out walking at La Bourboule, through having taken off her
mantle to place it round the shoulders of Marie, who had been conveyed
thither for treatment. It had been necessary that the father should at
once start off to fetch his daughter, who was mad with grief, and the
corpse of his wife, who had been so suddenly torn from him. And
unhappily, after losing her, the affairs of the family went from bad to
worse in the hands of this architect, who, without counting, flung his
fortune into the yawning gulf of his unsuccessful enterprises. Marie no
longer stirred from her couch; only Blanche remained to manage the
household, and she had matters of her own to attend to, being busy with
the last examinations which she had to pass, the diplomas which she was
obstinately intent on securing, foreseeing as she did that she would
someday have to earn her bread.

All at once, from amidst this mass of confused, half-forgotten
incidents, Pierre was conscious of the rise of a vivid vision.
Ill-health, he remembered, had again compelled him to take a holiday.
He had just completed his twenty-fourth year, he was greatly
behindhand, having so far only secured the four minor orders; but on
his return a sub-deaconship would be conferred on him, and an
inviolable vow would bind him for evermore. And the Guersaints’ little
garden at Neuilly, whither he had formerly so often gone to play, again
distinctly appeared before him. Marie’s couch had been rolled under the
tall trees at the far end of the garden near the hedge, they were alone
together in the sad peacefulness of an autumnal afternoon, and he saw
Marie, clad in deep mourning for her mother and reclining there with
legs inert; whilst he, also clad in black, in a cassock already, sat
near her on an iron garden chair. For five years she had been
suffering. She was now eighteen, paler and thinner than formerly, but
still adorable with her regal golden hair, which illness respected. He
believed from what he had heard that she was destined to remain infirm,
condemned never to become a woman, stricken even in her sex. The
doctors, who failed to agree respecting her case, had abandoned her.
Doubtless it was she who told him these things that dreary afternoon,
whilst the yellow withered leaves rained upon them. However, he could
not remember the words that they had spoken; her pale smile, her young
face, still so charming though already dimmed by regretfulness for
life, alone remained present with him. But he realised that she had
evoked the far-off day of their parting, on that same spot, behind the
hedge flecked with sunlight; and all that was already as though
dead—their tears, their embrace, their promise to find one another some
day with a certainty of happiness. For although they had found one
another again, what availed it, since she was but a corpse, and he was
about to bid farewell to the life of the world? As the doctors
condemned her, as she would never be woman, nor wife, nor mother, he,
on his side, might well renounce manhood, and annihilate himself,
dedicate himself to God, to whom his mother gave him. And he still felt
within him the soft bitterness of that last interview: Marie smiling
painfully at memory of their childish play and prattle, and speaking to
him of the happiness which he would assuredly find in the service of
God; so penetrated indeed with emotion at this thought, that she had
made him promise that he would let her hear him say his first mass.

But the train was passing the station of Sainte-Maure, and just then a
sudden uproar momentarily brought Pierre’s attention back to the
carriage and its occupants. He fancied that there had been some fresh
seizure or swooning, but the suffering faces that he beheld were still
the same, ever contracted by the same expression of anxious waiting for
the divine succour which was so slow in coming. M. Sabathier was vainly
striving to get his legs into a comfortable position, whilst Brother
Isidore raised a feeble continuous moan like a dying child, and Madame
Vetu, a prey to terrible agony, devoured by her disease, sat
motionless, and kept her lips tightly closed, her face distorted,
haggard, and almost black. The noise which Pierre had heard had been
occasioned by Madame de Jonquiere, who whilst cleansing a basin had
dropped the large zinc water-can. And, despite their torment, this had
made the patients laugh, like the simple souls they were, rendered
puerile by suffering. However, Sister Hyacinthe, who rightly called
them her children, children whom she governed with a word, at once set
them saying the chaplet again, pending the Angelus, which would only be
said at Chatellerault, in accordance with the predetermined programme.
And thereupon the “Aves” followed one after the other, spreading into a
confused murmuring and mumbling amidst the rattling of the coupling
irons and noisy growling of the wheels.

Pierre had meantime relapsed into his reverie, and beheld himself as he
had been at six-and-twenty, when ordained a priest. Tardy scruples had
come to him a few days before his ordination, a semi-consciousness that
he was binding himself without having clearly questioned his heart and
mind. But he had avoided doing so, living in the dizzy bewilderment of
his decision, fancying that he had lopped off all human ties and
feelings with a voluntary hatchet-stroke. His flesh had surely died
with his childhood’s innocent romance, that white-skinned girl with
golden hair, whom now he never beheld otherwise than stretched upon her
couch of suffering, her flesh as lifeless as his own. And he had
afterwards made the sacrifice of his mind, which he then fancied even
an easier one, hoping as he did that determination would suffice to
prevent him from thinking. Besides, it was too late, he could not
recoil at the last moment, and if when he pronounced the last solemn
vow he felt a secret terror, an indeterminate but immense regret
agitating him, he forgot everything, saving a divine reward for his
efforts on the day when he afforded his mother the great and
long-expected joy of hearing him say his first mass.

He could still see the poor woman in the little church of Neuilly,
which she herself had selected, the church where the funeral service
for his father had been celebrated; he saw her on that cold November
morning, kneeling almost alone in the dark little chapel, her hands
hiding her face as she continued weeping whilst he raised the Host. It
was there that she had tasted her last happiness, for she led a sad and
lonely life, no longer seeing her elder son, who had gone away, swayed
by other ideas than her own, bent on breaking off all family
intercourse since his brother intended to enter the Church. It was said
that Guillaume, a chemist of great talent, like his father, but at the
same time a Bohemian, addicted to revolutionary dreams, was living in a
little house in the suburbs, where he devoted himself to the dangerous
study of explosive substances; and folks added that he was living with
a woman who had come no one knew whence. This it was which had severed
the last tie between himself and his mother, all piety and propriety.
For three years Pierre had not once seen Guillaume, whom in his
childhood he had worshipped as a kind, merry, and fatherly big brother.

But there came an awful pang to his heart—he once more beheld his
mother lying dead. This again was a thunderbolt, an illness of scarce
three days’ duration, a sudden passing away, as in the case of Madame
de Guersaint. One evening, after a wild hunt for the doctor, he had
found her motionless and quite white. She had died during his absence;
and his lips had ever retained the icy thrill of the last kiss that he
had given her. Of everything else—the vigil, the preparations, the
funeral—he remembered nothing. All that had become lost in the black
night of his stupor and grief, grief so extreme that he had almost died
of it—seized with shivering on his return from the cemetery, struck
down by a fever which during three weeks had kept him delirious,
hovering between life and death. His brother had come and nursed him
and had then attended to pecuniary matters, dividing the little
inheritance, leaving him the house and a modest income and taking his
own share in money. And as soon as Guillaume had found him out of
danger he had gone off again, once more vanishing into the unknown. But
then through what a long convalescence he, Pierre, had passed, buried
as it were in that deserted house. He had done nothing to detain
Guillaume, for he realised that there was an abyss between them. At
first the solitude had brought him suffering, but afterwards it had
grown very pleasant, whether in the deep silence of the rooms which the
rare noises of the street did not disturb, or under the screening,
shady foliage of the little garden, where he could spend whole days
without seeing a soul. His favourite place of refuge, however, was the
old laboratory, his father’s cabinet, which his mother for twenty years
had kept carefully locked up, as though to immure within it all the
incredulity and damnation of the past. And despite the gentleness, the
respectful submissiveness which she had shown in former times, she
would perhaps have some day ended by destroying all her husband’s books
and papers, had not death so suddenly surprised her. Pierre, however,
had once more had the windows opened, the writing-table and the
bookcase dusted; and, installed in the large leather arm-chair, he now
spent delicious hours there, regenerated as it were by his illness,
brought back to his youthful days again, deriving a wondrous
intellectual delight from the perusal of the books which he came upon.

The only person whom he remembered having received during those two
months of slow recovery was Doctor Chassaigne, an old friend of his
father, a medical man of real merit, who, with the one ambition of
curing disease, modestly confined himself to the /role/ of the
practitioner. It was in vain that the doctor had sought to save Madame
Froment, but he flattered himself that he had extricated the young
priest from grievous danger; and he came to see him from time to time,
to chat with him and cheer him, talking with him of his father, the
great chemist, of whom he recounted many a charming anecdote, many a
particular, still glowing with the flame of ardent friendship. Little
by little, amidst the weak languor of convalescence, the son had thus
beheld an embodiment of charming simplicity, affection, and good nature
rising up before him. It was his father such as he had really been, not
the man of stern science whom he had pictured whilst listening to his
mother. Certainly she had never taught him aught but respect for that
dear memory; but had not her husband been the unbeliever, the man who
denied, and made the angels weep, the artisan of impiety who sought to
change the world that God had made? And so he had long remained a
gloomy vision, a spectre of damnation prowling about the house, whereas
now he became the house’s very light, clear and gay, a worker consumed
by a longing for truth, who had never desired anything but the love and
happiness of all. For his part, Doctor Chassaigne, a Pyrenean by birth,
born in a far-off secluded village where folks still believed in
sorceresses, inclined rather towards religion, although he had not set
his foot inside a church during the forty years he had been living in
Paris. However, his conviction was absolute: if there were a heaven
somewhere, Michel Froment was assuredly there, and not merely there,
but seated upon a throne on the Divinity’s right hand.

Then Pierre, in a few minutes, again lived through the frightful
torment which, during two long months, had ravaged him. It was not that
he had found controversial works of an anti-religious character in the
bookcase, or that his father, whose papers he sorted, had ever gone
beyond his technical studies as a
/savant/. But little by little, despite himself, the light of science
upon him, an /ensemble/ of proven phenomena, which demolished dogmas
and left within him nothing of the things which as a priest he should
have believed. It seemed, in fact, as though illness had renewed him,
as though he were again beginning to live and learn amidst the physical
pleasantness of convalescence, that still subsisting weakness which
lent penetrating lucidity to his brain. At the seminary, by the advice
of his masters, he had always kept the spirit of inquiry, his thirst
for knowledge, in check. Much of that which was taught him there had
surprised him; however, he had succeeded in making the sacrifice of his
mind required of his piety. But now, all the laboriously raised
scaffolding of dogmas was swept away in a revolt of that sovereign mind
which clamoured for its rights, and which he could no longer silence.
Truth was bubbling up and overflowing in such an irresistible stream
that he realised he would never succeed in lodging error in his brain
again. It was indeed the total and irreparable ruin of faith. Although
he had been able to kill his flesh by renouncing the romance of his
youth, although he felt that he had altogether mastered carnal passion,
he now knew that it would be impossible for him to make the sacrifice
of his intelligence. And he was not mistaken; it was indeed his father
again springing to life in the depths of his being, and at last
obtaining the mastery in that dual heredity in which, during so many
years, his mother had dominated. The upper part of his face, his
straight, towering brow, seemed to have risen yet higher, whilst the
lower part, the small chin, the affectionate mouth, were becoming less
distinct. However, he suffered; at certain twilight hours when his
kindliness, his need of love awoke, he felt distracted with grief at no
longer believing, distracted with desire to believe again; and it was
necessary that the lighted lamp should be brought in, that he should
see clearly around him and within him, before he could recover the
energy and calmness of reason, the strength of martyrdom, the
determination to sacrifice everything to the peace of his conscience.

Then came the crisis. He was a priest and he no longer believed. This
had suddenly dawned before him like a bottomless abyss. It was the end
of his life, the collapse of everything. What should he do? Did not
simple rectitude require that he should throw off the cassock and
return to the world? But he had seen some renegade priests and had
despised them. A married priest with whom he was acquainted filled him
with disgust. All this, no doubt, was but a survival of his long
religious training. He retained the notion that a priest cannot, must
not, weaken; the idea that when one has dedicated oneself to God one
cannot take possession of oneself again. Possibly, also, he felt that
he was too plainly branded, too different from other men already, to
prove otherwise than awkward and unwelcome among them. Since he had
been cut off from them he would remain apart in his grievous pride;
And, after days of anguish, days of struggle incessantly renewed, in
which his thirst for happiness warred with the energies of his
returning health, he took the heroic resolution to remain a priest, and
an honest one. He would find the strength necessary for such
abnegation. Since he had conquered the flesh, albeit unable to conquer
the brain, he felt sure of keeping his vow of chastity, and that would
be unshakable; therein lay the pure, upright life which he was
absolutely certain of living. What mattered the rest if he alone
suffered, if nobody in the world suspected that his heart was reduced
to ashes, that nothing remained of his faith, that he was agonising
amidst fearful falsehood? His rectitude would prove a firm prop; he
would follow his priestly calling like an honest man, without breaking
any of the vows he had taken; he would, in due accordance with the
rites, discharge his duties as a minister of the Divinity, whom he
would praise and glorify at the altar, and distribute as the Bread of
Life to the faithful. Who, then, would dare to impute his loss of faith
to him as a crime, even if this great misfortune should some day become
known? And what more could be asked of him than lifelong devotion to
his vow, regard for his ministry, and the practice of every charity
without the hope of any future reward? In this wise he ended by calming
himself, still upright, still bearing his head erect, with the desolate
grandeur of the priest who himself no longer believes, but continues
watching over the faith of others. And he certainly was not alone; he
felt that he had many brothers, priests with ravaged minds, who had
sunk into incredulity, and who yet, like soldiers without a fatherland,
remained at the altar, and, despite, everything, found the courage to
make the divine illusion shine forth above the kneeling crowds.

On recovering his health Pierre had immediately resumed his service at
the little church of Neuilly. He said his mass there every morning. But
he had resolved to refuse any appointment, any preferment. Months and
years went by, and he obstinately insisted on remaining the least known
and the most humble of those priests who are tolerated in a parish, who
appear and disappear after discharging their duty. The acceptance of
any appointment would have seemed to him an aggravation of his
falsehood, a theft from those who were more deserving than himself. And
he had to resist frequent offers, for it was impossible for his merits
to remain unnoticed. Indeed, his obstinate modesty provoked
astonishment at the archbishop’s palace, where there was a desire to
utilise the power which could be divined in him. Now and again, it is
true, he bitterly regretted that he was not useful, that he did not
co-operate in some great work, in furthering the purification of the
world, the salvation and happiness of all, in accordance with his own
ardent, torturing desire. Fortunately his time was nearly all his own,
and to console himself he gave rein to his passion for work by
devouring every volume in his father’s bookcase, and then again
resuming and considering his studies, feverishly preoccupied with
regard to the history of nations, full of a desire to explore the
depths of the social and religious crisis so that he might ascertain
whether it were really beyond remedy.

It was at this time, whilst rummaging one morning in one of the large
drawers in the lower part of the bookcase, that he discovered quite a
collection of papers respecting the apparitions of Lourdes. It was a
very complete set of documents, comprising detailed notes of the
interrogatories to which Bernadette had been subjected, copies of
numerous official documents, and police and medical reports, in
addition to many private and confidential letters of the greatest
interest. This discovery had surprised Pierre, and he had questioned,
Doctor Chassaigne concerning it. The latter thereupon remembered that
his friend, Michel Froment, had at one time passionately devoted
himself to the study of Bernadette’s case; and he himself, a native of
the village near Lourdes, had procured for the chemist a portion of the
documents in the collection. Pierre, in his turn, then became
impassioned, and for a whole month continued studying the affair,
powerfully attracted by the visionary’s pure, upright nature, but
indignant with all that had subsequently sprouted up—the barbarous
fetishism, the painful superstitions, and the triumphant simony. In the
access of unbelief which had come upon him, this story of Lourdes was
certainly of a nature to complete the collapse of his faith. However,
it had also excited his curiosity, and he would have liked to
investigate it, to establish beyond dispute what scientific truth might
be in it, and render pure Christianity the service of ridding it of
this scoria, this fairy tale, all touching and childish as it was. But
he had been obliged to relinquish his studies, shrinking from the
necessity of making a journey to the Grotto, and finding that it would
be extremely difficult to obtain the information which he still needed;
and of it all there at last only remained within him a tender feeling
for Bernadette, of whom he could not think without a sensation of
delightful charm and infinite pity.

The days went by, and Pierre led a more and more lonely life. Doctor
Chassaigne had just left for the Pyrenees in a state of mortal anxiety.
Abandoning his patients, he had set out for Cauterets with his ailing
wife, who was sinking more and more each day, to the infinite distress
of both his charming daughter and himself. From that moment the little
house at Neuilly fell into deathlike silence and emptiness. Pierre had
no other distraction than that of occasionally going to see the
Guersaints, who had long since left the neighbouring house, but whom he
had found again in a small lodging in a wretched tenement of the
district. And the memory of his first visit to them there was yet so
fresh within him, that he felt a pang at his heart as he recalled his
emotion at sight of the hapless Marie.

That pang roused him from his reverie, and on looking round he
perceived Marie stretched on the seat, even as he had found her on the
day which he recalled, already imprisoned in that gutter-like box, that
coffin to which wheels were adapted when she was taken out-of-doors for
an airing. She, formerly so brimful of life, ever astir and laughing,
was dying of inaction and immobility in that box. Of her old-time
beauty she had retained nothing save her hair, which clad her as with a
royal mantle, and she was so emaciated that she seemed to have grown
smaller again, to have become once more a child. And what was most
distressing was the expression on her pale face, the blank, frigid
stare of her eyes which did not see, the ever haunting absent look, as
of one whom suffering overwhelmed. However, she noticed that Pierre was
gazing at her, and at once desired to smile at him; but irresistible
moans escaped her, and when she did at last smile, it was like a poor
smitten creature who is convinced that she will expire before the
miracle takes place. He was overcome by it, and, amidst all the
sufferings with which the carriage abounded, hers were now the only
ones that he beheld and heard, as though one and all were summed up in
her, in the long and terrible agony of her beauty, gaiety, and youth.

Then by degrees, without taking his eyes from Marie, he again reverted
to former days, again lived those hours, fraught with a mournful and
bitter charm, which he had often spent beside her, when he called at
the sorry lodging to keep her company. M. de Guersaint had finally
ruined himself by trying to improve the artistic quality of the
religious prints so widely sold in France, the faulty execution of
which quite irritated him. His last resources had been swallowed up in
the failure of a colour-printing firm; and, heedless as he was,
deficient in foresight, ever trusting in Providence, his childish mind
continually swayed by illusions, he did not notice the awful pecuniary
embarrassment of the household; but applied himself to the study of
aerial navigation, without even realising what prodigious activity his
elder daughter, Blanche, was forced to display, in order to earn the
living of her two children, as she was wont to call her father and her
sister. It was Blanche who, by running about Paris in the dust or the
mud from morning to evening in order to give French or music lessons,
contrived to provide the money necessary for the unremitting attentions
which Marie required. And Marie often experienced attacks of
despair—bursting into tears and accusing herself of being the primary
cause of their ruin, as for years and years now it had been necessary
to pay for medical attendance and for taking her to almost every
imaginable spring—La Bourboule, Aix, Lamalou, Amelie-les-Bains, and
others. And the outcome of ten years of varied diagnosis and treatment
was that the doctors had now abandoned her. Some thought her illness to
be due to the rupture of certain ligaments, others believed in the
presence of a tumour, others again to paralysis due to injury to the
spinal cord, and as she, with maidenly revolt, refused to undergo any
examination, and they did not even dare to address precise questions to
her, they each contented themselves with their several opinions and
declared that she was beyond cure. Moreover, she now solely relied upon
the divine help, having grown rigidly pious since she had been
suffering, and finding her only relief in her ardent faith. Every
morning she herself read the holy offices, for to her great sorrow she
was unable to go to church. Her inert limbs indeed seemed quite
lifeless, and she had sunk into a condition of extreme weakness, to
such a point, in fact, that on certain days it became necessary for her
sister to place her food in her mouth.

Pierre was thinking of this when all at once he recalled an evening he
had spent with her. The lamp had not yet been lighted, he was seated
beside her in the growing obscurity, and she suddenly told him that she
wished to go to Lourdes, feeling certain that she would return cured.
He had experienced an uncomfortable sensation on hearing her speak in
this fashion, and quite forgetting himself had exclaimed that it was
folly to believe in such childishness. He had hitherto made it a rule
never to converse with her on religious matters, having not only
refused to be her confessor, but even to advise her with regard to the
petty uncertainties of her pietism. In this respect he was influenced
by feelings of mingled shame and compassion; to lie to her of all
people would have made him suffer, and, moreover, he would have deemed
himself a criminal had he even by a breath sullied that fervent pure
faith which lent her such strength against pain. And so, regretting
that he had not been able to restrain his exclamation, he remained
sorely embarrassed, when all at once he felt the girl’s cold hand take
hold of his own. And then, emboldened by the darkness, she ventured in
a gentle, faltering voice, to tell him that she already knew his
secret, his misfortune, that wretchedness, so fearful for a priest, of
being unable to believe.

Despite himself he had revealed everything during their chats together,
and she, with the delicate intuition of a friend, had been able to read
his conscience. She felt terribly distressed on his account; she deemed
him, with that mortal moral malady, to be more deserving of pity than
herself. And then as he, thunderstruck, was still unable to find an
answer, acknowledging the truth of her words by his very silence, she
again began to speak to him of Lourdes, adding in a low whisper that
she wished to confide him as well as herself to the protection of the
Blessed Virgin, whom she entreated to restore him to faith. And from
that evening forward she did not cease speaking on the subject,
repeating again and again, that if she went to Lourdes she would be
surely cured. But she was prevented from making the journey by lack of
means and she did not even dare to speak to her sister of the pecuniary
question. So two months went by, and day by day she grew weaker,
exhausted by her longing dreams, her eyes ever turned towards the
flashing light of the miraculous Grotto far away. Pierre then
experienced many painful days. He had at first told Marie that he would
not accompany her. But his decision was somewhat shaken by the thought
that if he made up his mind to go, he might profit by the journey to
continue his inquiries with regard to Bernadette, whose charming image
lingered in his heart. And at last he even felt penetrated by a
delightful feeling, an unacknowledged hope, the hope that Marie was
perhaps right, that the Virgin might take pity on him and restore to
him his former blind faith, the faith of the child who loves and does
not question. Oh! to believe, to believe with his whole soul, to plunge
into faith for ever! Doubtless there was no other possible happiness.
He longed for faith with all the joyousness of his youth, with all the
love that he had felt for his mother, with all his burning desire to
escape from the torment of understanding and knowing, and to slumber
forever in the depths of divine ignorance. It was cowardly, and yet so
delightful; to exist no more, to become a mere thing in the hands of
the Divinity. And thus he was at last possessed by a desire to make the
supreme experiment.

A week later the journey to Lourdes was decided upon. Pierre, however,
had insisted on a final consultation of medical men in order to
ascertain if it were really possible for Marie to travel; and this
again was a scene which rose up before him, with certain incidents
which he ever beheld whilst others were already fading from his mind.
Two of the doctors who had formerly attended the patient, and one of
whom believed in the rupture of certain ligaments, whilst the other
asserted the case to be one of medullary paralysis, had ended by
agreeing that this paralysis existed, and that there was also,
possibly, some ligamentary injury. In their opinion all the symptoms
pointed to this diagnosis, and the nature of the case seemed to them so
evident that they did not hesitate to give certificates, each his own,
agreeing almost word for word with one another, and so positive in
character as to leave no room for doubt. Moreover, they thought that
the journey was practicable, though it would certainly prove an
exceedingly painful one. Pierre thereupon resolved to risk it, for he
had found the doctors very prudent, and very desirous to arrive at the
truth; and he retained but a confused recollection of the third medical
man who had been called in, a distant cousin of his named De Beauclair,
who was young, extremely intelligent, but little known as yet, and said
by some to be rather strange in his theories. This doctor, after
looking at Marie for a long time, had asked somewhat anxiously about
her parents, and had seemed greatly interested by what was told him of
M. de Guersaint, this architect and inventor with a weak and exuberant
mind. Then he had desired to measure the sufferer’s visual field, and
by a slight discreet touch had ascertained the locality of the pain,
which, under certain pressure, seemed to ascend like a heavy shifting
mass towards the breast. He did not appear to attach importance to the
paralysis of the legs; but on a direct question being put to him he
exclaimed that the girl ought to be taken to Lourdes and that she would
assuredly be cured there, if she herself were convinced of it. Faith
sufficed, said he, with a smile; two pious lady patients of his, whom
he had sent thither during the preceding year, had returned in radiant
health. He even predicted how the miracle would come about; it would be
like a lightning stroke, an awakening, an exaltation of the entire
being, whilst the evil, that horrid, diabolical weight which stifled
the poor girl would once more ascend and fly away as though emerging by
her mouth. But at the same time he flatly declined to give a
certificate. He had failed to agree with his two /confreres/, who
treated him coldly, as though they considered him a wild, adventurous
young fellow. Pierre confusedly remembered some shreds of the
discussion which had begun again in his presence, some little part of
the diagnosis framed by Beauclair. First, a dislocation of the organ,
with a slight laceration of the ligaments, resulting from the patient’s
fall from her horse; then a slow healing, everything returning to its
place, followed by consecutive nervous symptoms, so that the sufferer
was now simply beset by her original fright, her attention fixed on the
injured part, arrested there amidst increasing pain, incapable of
acquiring fresh notions unless it were under the lash of some violent
emotion. Moreover, he also admitted the probability of accidents due to
nutrition, as yet unexplained, and on the course and importance of
which he himself would not venture to give an opinion. However, the
idea that Marie
/dreamt/ her disease, that the fearful sufferings torturing her came
/from an
injury long since healed, appeared such a paradox to Pierre when he
gazed at her and saw her in such agony, her limbs already stretched out
lifeless on her bed of misery, that he did not even pause to consider
it; but at that moment felt simply happy in the thought that all three
doctors agreed in authorising the journey to Lourdes. To him it was
sufficient that she
/might/ be cured, and to attain that result he would have followed her
the end of the world.

Ah! those last days of Paris, amid what a scramble they were spent! The
national pilgrimage was about to start, and in order to avoid heavy
expenses, it had occurred to him to obtain /hospitalisation/ for Marie.
Then he had been obliged to run about in order to obtain his own
admission, as a helper, into the Hospitality of Our Lady of Salvation.
M. de Guersaint was delighted with the prospect of the journey, for he
was fond of nature, and ardently desired to become acquainted with the
Pyrenees. Moreover, he did not allow anything to worry him, but was
perfectly willing that the young priest should pay his railway fare,
and provide for him at the hotel yonder as for a child; and his
daughter Blanche, having slipped a twenty-franc piece into his hand at
the last moment, he had even thought himself rich again. That poor
brave Blanche had a little hidden store of her own, savings to the
amount of fifty francs, which it had been absolutely necessary to
accept, for she became quite angry in her determination to contribute
towards her sister’s cure, unable as she was to form one of the party,
owing to the lessons which she had to give in Paris, whose hard
pavements she must continue pacing, whilst her dear ones were kneeling
yonder, amidst the enchantments of the Grotto. And so the others had
started on, and were now rolling, ever rolling along.

As they passed the station of Chatellerault a sudden burst of voices
made Pierre start, and drove away the torpor into which his reverie had
plunged him. What was the matter? Were they reaching Poitiers? But it
was only half-past twelve o’clock, and it was simply Sister Hyacinthe
who had roused him, by making her patients and pilgrims say the
Angelus, the three “Aves” thrice repeated. Then the voices burst forth,
and the sound of a fresh canticle arose, and continued like a
lamentation. Fully five and twenty minutes must elapse before they
would reach Poitiers, where it seemed as if the half-hour’s stoppage
would bring relief to every suffering! They were all so uncomfortable,
so roughly shaken in that malodorous, burning carriage! Such
wretchedness was beyond endurance. Big tears coursed down the cheeks of
Madame Vincent, a muttered oath escaped M. Sabathier usually so
resigned, and Brother Isidore, La Grivotte, and Madame Vetu seemed to
have become inanimate, mere waifs carried along by a torrent. Moreover,
Marie no longer answered, but had closed her eyes and would not open
them, pursued as she was by the horrible vision of Elise Rouquet’s
face, that face with its gaping cavities which seemed to her to be the
image of death. And whilst the train increased its speed, bearing all
this human despair onward, under the heavy sky, athwart the burning
plains, there was yet another scare in the carriage. The strange man
had apparently ceased to breathe, and a voice cried out that he was


AS soon as the train arrived at Poitiers, Sister Hyacinthe alighted in
all haste, amidst the crowd of porters opening the carriage doors, and
of pilgrims darting forward to reach the platform. “Wait a moment, wait
a moment,” she repeated, “let me pass first. I wish to see if all is

Then, having entered the other compartment, she raised the strange
man’s head, and seeing him so pale, with such blank eyes, she did at
first think him already dead. At last, however, she detected a faint
breathing. “No, no,” she then exclaimed, “he still breathes. Quick!
there is no time to be lost.” And, perceiving the other Sister, she
added: “Sister Claire des Anges, will you go and fetch Father Massias,
who must be in the third or fourth carriage of the train? Tell him that
we have a patient in very great danger here, and ask him to bring the
Holy Oils at once.”

Without answering, the other Sister at once plunged into the midst of
the scramble. She was small, slender, and gentle, with a meditative air
and mysterious eyes, but withal extremely active.

Pierre, who was standing in the other compartment watching the scene,
now ventured to make a suggestion: “And would it not be as well to
fetch the doctor?” said he.

“Yes, I was thinking of it,” replied Sister Hyacinthe, “and, Monsieur
l’Abbe, it would be very kind of you to go for him yourself.”

It so happened that Pierre intended going to the cantine carriage to
fetch some broth for Marie. Now that she was no longer being jolted she
felt somewhat relieved, and had opened her eyes, and caused her father
to raise her to a sitting posture. Keenly thirsting for fresh air, she
would have much liked them to carry her out on to the platform for a
moment, but she felt that it would be asking too much, that it would be
too troublesome a task to place her inside the carriage again. So M. de
Guersaint remained by himself on the platform, near the open door,
smoking a cigarette, whilst Pierre hastened to the cantine van, where
he knew he would find the doctor on duty, with his travelling pharmacy.

Some other patients, whom one could not think of removing, also
remained in the carriage. Amongst them was La Grivotte, who was
stifling and almost delirious, in such a state indeed as to detain
Madame de Jonquiere, who had arranged to meet her daughter Raymonde,
with Madame Volmar and Madame Desagneaux, in the refreshment-room, in
order that they might all four lunch together. But that unfortunate
creature seemed on the point of expiring, so how could she leave her
all alone, on the hard seat of that carriage? On his side, M.
Sabathier, likewise riveted to his seat, was waiting for his wife, who
had gone to fetch a bunch of grapes for him; whilst Marthe had remained
with her brother the missionary, whose faint moan never ceased. The
others, those who were able to walk, had hustled one another in their
haste to alight, all eager as they were to escape for a moment from
that cage of wretchedness where their limbs had been quite numbed by
the seven hours’ journey which they had so far gone. Madame Maze had at
once drawn apart, straying with melancholy face to the far end of the
platform, where she found herself all alone; Madame Vetu, stupefied by
her sufferings, had found sufficient strength to take a few steps, and
sit down on a bench, in the full sunlight, where she did not even feel
the burning heat; whilst Elise Rouquet, who had had the decency to
cover her face with a black wrap, and was consumed by a desire for
fresh water, went hither and thither in search of a drinking fountain.
And meantime Madame Vincent, walking slowly, carried her little Rose
about in her arms, trying to smile at her, and to cheer her by showing
her some gaudily coloured picture bills, which the child gravely gazed
at, but did not see.

Pierre had the greatest possible difficulty in making his way through
the crowd inundating the platform. No effort of imagination could
enable one to picture the living torrent of ailing and healthy beings
which the train had here set down—a mob of more than a thousand persons
just emerging from suffocation, and bustling, hurrying hither and
thither. Each carriage had contributed its share of wretchedness, like
some hospital ward suddenly evacuated; and it was now possible to form
an idea of the frightful amount of suffering which this terrible white
train carried along with it, this train which disseminated a legend of
horror wheresoever it passed. Some infirm sufferers were dragging
themselves about, others were being carried, and many remained in a
heap on the platform. There were sudden pushes, violent calls,
innumerable displays of distracted eagerness to reach the
refreshment-room and the /buvette/. Each and all made haste, going
wheresoever their wants called them. This stoppage of half an hour’s
duration, the only stoppage there would be before reaching Lourdes,
was, after all, such a short one. And the only gay note, amidst all the
black cassocks and the threadbare garments of the poor, never of any
precise shade of colour, was supplied by the smiling whiteness of the
Little Sisters of the Assumption, all bright and active in their snowy
coifs, wimples, and aprons.

When Pierre at last reached the cantine van near the middle of the
train, he found it already besieged. There was here a petroleum stove,
with a small supply of cooking utensils. The broth prepared from
concentrated meat-extract was being warmed in wrought-iron pans, whilst
the preserved milk in tins was diluted and supplied as occasion
required. There were some other provisions, such as biscuits, fruit,
and chocolate, on a few shelves. But Sister Saint-Francois, to whom the
service was entrusted, a short, stout woman of five-and-forty, with a
good-natured fresh-coloured face, was somewhat losing her head in the
presence of all the hands so eagerly stretched towards her. Whilst
continuing her distribution, she lent ear to Pierre, as he called the
doctor, who with his travelling pharmacy occupied another corner of the
van. Then, when the young priest began to explain matters, speaking of
the poor unknown man who was dying, a sudden desire came to her to go
and see him, and she summoned another Sister to take her place.

“Oh! I wished to ask you, Sister, for some broth for a passenger who is
ill,” said Pierre, at that moment turning towards her.

“Very well, Monsieur l’Abbe, I will bring some. Go on in front.”

The doctor and the abbe went off in all haste, rapidly questioning and
answering one another, whilst behind them followed Sister
Saint-Francois, carrying the bowl of broth with all possible caution
amidst the jostling of the crowd. The doctor was a dark-complexioned
man of eight-and-twenty, robust and extremely handsome, with the head
of a young Roman emperor, such as may still be occasionally met with in
the sunburnt land of Provence. As soon as Sister Hyacinthe caught sight
of him, she raised an exclamation of surprise: “What! Monsieur Ferrand,
is it you?” Indeed, they both seemed amazed at meeting in this manner.

It is, however, the courageous mission of the Sisters of the Assumption
to tend the ailing poor, those who lie in agony in their humble
garrets, and cannot pay for nursing; and thus these good women spend
their lives among the wretched, installing themselves beside the
sufferer’s pallet in his tiny lodging, and ministering to every want,
attending alike to cooking and cleaning, and living there as servants
and relatives, until either cure or death supervenes. And it was in
this wise that Sister Hyacinthe, young as she was, with her milky face,
and her blue eyes which ever laughed, had installed herself one day in
the abode of this young fellow, Ferrand, then a medical student,
prostrated by typhoid fever, and so desperately poor that he lived in a
kind of loft reached by a ladder, in the Rue du Four. And from that
moment she had not stirred from his side, but had remained with him
until she cured him, with the passion of one who lived only for others,
one who when an infant had been found in a church porch, and who had no
other family than that of those who suffered, to whom she devoted
herself with all her ardently affectionate nature. And what a
delightful month, what exquisite comradeship, fraught with the pure
fraternity of suffering, had followed! When he called her “Sister,” it
was really to a sister that he was speaking. And she was a mother also,
a mother who helped him to rise, and who put him to bed as though he
were her child, without aught springing up between them save supreme
pity, the divine, gentle compassion of charity. She ever showed herself
gay, sexless, devoid of any instinct excepting that which prompted her
to assuage and to console. And he worshipped her, venerated her, and
had retained of her the most chaste and passionate of recollections.

“O Sister Hyacinthe!” he murmured in delight.

Chance alone had brought them face to face again, for Ferrand was not a
believer, and if he found himself in that train it was simply because
he had at the last moment consented to take the place of a friend who
was suddenly prevented from coming. For nearly a twelvemonth he had
been a house-surgeon at the Hospital of La Pitie. However, this journey
to Lourdes, in such peculiar circumstances, greatly interested him.

The joy of the meeting was making them forget the ailing stranger. And
so the Sister resumed: “You see, Monsieur Ferrand, it is for this man
that we want you. At one moment we thought him dead. Ever since we
passed Amboise he has been filling us with fear, and I have just sent
for the Holy Oils. Do you find him so very low? Could you not revive
him a little?”

The doctor was already examining the man, and thereupon the sufferers
who had remained in the carriage became greatly interested and began to
look. Marie, to whom Sister Saint-Francois had given the bowl of broth,
was holding it with such an unsteady hand that Pierre had to take it
from her, and endeavour to make her drink; but she could not swallow,
and she left the broth scarce tasted, fixing her eyes upon the man
waiting to see what would happen like one whose own existence is at

“Tell me,” again asked Sister Hyacinthe, “how do you find him? What is
his illness?”

“What is his illness!” muttered Ferrand; “he has every illness.”

Then, drawing a little phial from his pocket, he endeavoured to
introduce a few drops of the contents between the sufferer’s clenched
teeth. The man heaved a sigh, raised his eyelids and let them fall
again; that was all, he gave no other sign of life.

Sister Hyacinthe, usually so calm and composed, so little accustomed to
despair, became impatient.

“But it is terrible,” said she, “and Sister Claire des Anges does not
come back! Yet I told her plainly enough where she would find Father
Massias’s carriage. /Mon Dieu!/ what will become of us?”

Sister Saint-Francois, seeing that she could render no help, was now
about to return to the cantine van. Before doing so, however, she
inquired if the man were not simply dying of hunger; for such cases
presented themselves, and indeed she had only come to the compartment
with the view of offering some of her provisions. At last, as she went
off, she promised that she would make Sister Claire des Anges hasten
her return should she happen to meet her; and she had not gone twenty
yards when she turned round and waved her arm to call attention to her
colleague, who with discreet short steps was coming back alone.

Leaning out of the window, Sister Hyacinthe kept on calling to her,
“Make haste, make haste! Well, and where is Father Massias?”

“He isn’t there.”

“What! not there?”

“No. I went as fast as I could, but with all these people about it was
not possible to get there quickly. When I reached the carriage Father
Massias had already alighted, and gone out of the station, no doubt.”

She thereupon explained, that according to what she had heard, Father
Massias and the priest of Sainte-Radegonde had some appointment
together. In other years the national pilgrimage halted at Poitiers for
four-and-twenty hours, and after those who were ill had been placed in
the town hospital the others went in procession to Sainte-Radegonde.*
That year, however, there was some obstacle to this course being
followed, so the train was going straight on to Lourdes; and Father
Massias was certainly with his friend the priest, talking with him on
some matter of importance.

* The church of Sainte-Radegonde, built by the saint of that name in
the sixth century, is famous throughout Poitou. In the crypt between
the tombs of Ste. Agnes and St. Disciole is that of Ste. Radegonde
herself, but it now only contains some particles of her remains, as the
greater portion was burnt by the Huguenots in 1562. On a previous
occasion (1412) the tomb had been violated by Jean, Duc de Berry, who
wished to remove both the saint’s head and her two rings. Whilst he was
making the attempt, however, the skeleton is said to have withdrawn its
hand so that he might not possess himself of the rings. A greater
curiosity which the church contains is a footprint on a stone slab,
said to have been left by Christ when He appeared to Ste. Radegonde in
her cell. This attracts pilgrims from many parts.—Trans.

“They promised to tell him and send him here with the Holy Oils as soon
as they found him,” added Sister Claire.

However, this was quite a disaster for Sister Hyacinthe. Since Science
was powerless, perhaps the Holy Oils would have brought the sufferer
some relief. She had often seen that happen.

“O Sister, Sister, how worried I am!” she said to her companion. “Do
you know, I wish you would go back and watch for Father Massias and
bring him to me as soon as you see him. It would be so kind of you to
do so!”

“Yes, Sister,” compliantly answered Sister Claire des Anges, and off
she went again with that grave, mysterious air of hers, wending her way
through the crowd like a gliding shadow.

Ferrand, meantime, was still looking at the man, sorely distressed at
his inability to please Sister Hyacinthe by reviving him. And as he
made a gesture expressive of his powerlessness she again raised her
voice entreatingly: “Stay with me, Monsieur Ferrand, pray stay,” she
said. “Wait till Father Massias comes—I shall be a little more at ease
with you here.”

He remained and helped her to raise the man, who was slipping down upon
the seat. Then, taking a linen cloth, she wiped the poor fellow’s face
which a dense perspiration was continually covering. And the spell of
waiting continued amid the uneasiness of the patients who had remained
in the carriage, and the curiosity of the folks who had begun to
assemble on the platform in front of the compartment.

All at once however a girl hastily pushed the crowd aside, and,
mounting on the footboard, addressed herself to Madame de Jonquiere:
“What is the matter, mamma?” she said. “They are waiting for you in the

It was Raymonde de Jonquiere, who, already somewhat ripe for her
four-and-twenty years, was remarkably like her mother, being very dark,
with a pronounced nose, large mouth, and full, pleasant-looking face.

“But, my dear, you can see for yourself. I can’t leave this poor
woman,” replied the lady-hospitaller; and thereupon she pointed to La
Grivotte, who had been attacked by a fit of coughing which shook her

“Oh, how annoying, mamma!” retorted Raymonde, “Madame Desagneaux and
Madame Volmar were looking forward with so much pleasure to this little
lunch together.”

“Well, it can’t be helped, my dear. At all events, you can begin
without waiting for me. Tell the ladies that I will come and join them
as soon as I can.” Then, an idea occurring to her, Madame de Jonquiere
added: “Wait a moment, the doctor is here. I will try to get him to
take charge of my patient. Go back, I will follow you. As you can
guess, I am dying of hunger.”

Raymonde briskly returned to the refreshment-room whilst her mother
begged Ferrand to come into her compartment to see if he could do
something to relieve La Grivotte. At Marthe’s request he had already
examined Brother Isidore, whose moaning never ceased; and with a
sorrowful gesture he had again confessed his powerlessness. However, he
hastened to comply with Madame de Jonquiere’s appeal, and raised the
consumptive woman to a sitting posture in the hope of thus stopping her
cough, which indeed gradually ceased. And then he helped the
lady-hospitaller to make her swallow a spoonful of some soothing
draught. The doctor’s presence in the carriage was still causing a stir
among the ailing ones. M. Sabathier, who was slowly eating the grapes
which his wife had been to fetch him, did not, however, question
Ferrand, for he knew full well what his answer would be, and was weary,
as he expressed it, of consulting all the princes of science;
nevertheless he felt comforted as it were at seeing him set that poor
consumptive woman on her feet again. And even Marie watched all that
the doctor did with increasing interest, though not daring to call him
herself, certain as she also was that he could do nothing for her.

Meantime, the crush on the platform was increasing. Only a quarter of
an hour now remained to the pilgrims. Madame Vetu, whose eyes were open
but who saw nothing, sat like an insensible being in the broad
sunlight, in the hope possibly that the scorching heat would deaden her
pains; whilst up and down, in front of her, went Madame Vincent ever
with the same sleep-inducing step and ever carrying her little Rose,
her poor ailing birdie, whose weight was so trifling that she scarcely
felt her in her arms. Many people meantime were hastening to the water
tap in order to fill their pitchers, cans, and bottles. Madame Maze,
who was of refined tastes and careful of her person, thought of going
to wash her hands there; but just as she arrived she found Elise
Rouquet drinking, and she recoiled at sight of that disease-smitten
face, so terribly disfigured and robbed of nearly all semblance of
humanity. And all the others likewise shuddered, likewise hesitated to
fill their bottles, pitchers, and cans at the tap from which she had

A large number of pilgrims had now begun to eat whilst pacing the
platform. You could hear the rhythmical taps of the crutches carried by
a woman who incessantly wended her way through the groups. On the
ground, a legless cripple was painfully dragging herself about in
search of nobody knew what. Others, seated there in heaps, no longer
stirred. All these sufferers, momentarily unpacked as it were, these
patients of a travelling hospital emptied for a brief half-hour, were
taking the air amidst the bewilderment and agitation of the healthy
passengers; and the whole throng had a frightfully woeful,
poverty-stricken appearance in the broad noontide light.

Pierre no longer stirred from the side of Marie, for M. de Guersaint
had disappeared, attracted by a verdant patch of landscape which could
be seen at the far end of the station. And, feeling anxious about her,
since she had not been able to finish her broth, the young priest with
a smiling air tried to tempt her palate by offering to go and buy her a
peach; but she refused it; she was suffering too much, she cared for
nothing. She was gazing at him with her large, woeful eyes, on the one
hand impatient at this stoppage which delayed her chance of cure, and
on the other terrified at the thought of again being jolted along that
hard and endless railroad.

Just then a stout gentleman whose full beard was turning grey, and who
had a broad, fatherly kind of face, drew near and touched Pierre’s arm:
“Excuse me, Monsieur l’Abbe,” said he, “but is it not in this carriage
that there is a poor man dying?”

And on the priest returning an affirmative answer, the gentleman became
quite affable and familiar.

“My name is Vigneron,” he said; “I am the head clerk at the Ministry of
Finances, and applied for leave in order that I might help my wife to
take our son Gustave to Lourdes. The dear lad places all his hope in
the Blessed Virgin, to whom we pray morning and evening on his behalf.
We are in a second-class compartment of the carriage just in front of

Then, turning round, he summoned his party with a wave of the hand.
“Come, come!” said he, “it is here. The unfortunate man is indeed in
the last throes.”

Madame Vigneron was a little woman with the correct bearing of a
/bourgeoise/, but her long, livid face denoted impoverished blood,
evidence of which was furnished by her son Gustave. The latter, who was
fifteen years of age, looked scarcely ten. Twisted out of shape, he was
a mere skeleton, with his right leg so wasted, so reduced, that he had
to walk with a crutch. He had a small, thin face, somewhat awry, in
which one saw little excepting his eyes, clear eyes, sparkling with
intelligence, sharpened as it were by suffering, and doubtless well
able to dive into the human soul.

An old puffy-faced lady followed the others, dragging her legs along
with difficulty; and M. Vigneron, remembering that he had forgotten
her, stepped back towards Pierre so that he might complete the
introduction. “That lady,” said he, “is Madame Chaise, my wife’s eldest
sister. She also wished to accompany Gustave, whom she is very fond
of.” And then, leaning forward, he added in a whisper, with a
confidential air: “She is the widow of Chaise, the silk merchant, you
know, who left such an immense fortune. She is suffering from a heart
complaint which causes her much anxiety.”

The whole family, grouped together, then gazed with lively curiosity at
what was taking place in the railway carriage. People were incessantly
flocking to the spot; and so that the lad might be the better able to
see, his father took him up in his arms for a moment whilst his aunt
held the crutch, and his mother on her side raised herself on tip-toe.

The scene in the carriage was still the same; the strange man was still
stiffly seated in his corner, his head resting against the hard wood.
He was livid, his eyes were closed, and his mouth was twisted by
suffering; and every now and then Sister Hyacinthe with her linen cloth
wiped away the cold sweat which was constantly covering his face. She
no longer spoke, no longer evinced any impatience, but had recovered
her serenity and relied on Heaven. From time to time she would simply
glance towards the platform to see if Father Massias were coming.

“Look at him, Gustave,” said M. Vigneron to his son; “he must be

The lad, whom scrofula was eating away, whose hip was attacked by an
abscess, and in whom there were already signs of necrosis of the
vertebrae, seemed to take a passionate interest in the agony he thus
beheld. It did not frighten him, he smiled at it with a smile of
infinite sadness.

“Oh! how dreadful!” muttered Madame Chaise, who, living in continual
terror of a sudden attack which would carry her off, turned pale with
the fear of death.

“Ah! well,” replied M. Vigneron, philosophically, “it will come to each
of us in turn. We are all mortal.”

Thereupon, a painful, mocking expression came over Gustave’s smile, as
though he had heard other words than those—perchance an unconscious
wish, the hope that the old aunt might die before he himself did, that
he would inherit the promised half-million of francs, and then not long
encumber his family.

“Put the boy down now,” said Madame Vigneron to her husband. “You are
tiring him, holding him by the legs like that.”

Then both she and Madame Chaise bestirred themselves in order that the
lad might not be shaken. The poor darling was so much in need of care
and attention. At each moment they feared that they might lose him.
Even his father was of opinion that they had better put him in the
train again at once. And as the two women went off with the child, the
old gentleman once more turned towards Pierre, and with evident emotion
exclaimed: “Ah! Monsieur l’Abbe, if God should take him from us, the
light of our life would be extinguished—I don’t speak of his aunt’s
fortune, which would go to other nephews. But it would be unnatural,
would it not, that he should go off before her, especially as she is so
ill? However, we are all in the hands of Providence, and place our
reliance in the Blessed Virgin, who will assuredly perform a miracle.”

Just then Madame de Jonquiere, having been reassured by Doctor Ferrand,
was able to leave La Grivotte. Before going off, however, she took care
to say to Pierre: “I am dying of hunger and am going to the
refreshment-room for a moment. But if my patient should begin coughing
again, pray come and fetch me.”

When, after great difficulty, she had managed to cross the platform and
reach the refreshment-room, she found herself in the midst of another
scramble. The better-circumstanced pilgrims had taken the tables by
assault, and a great many priests were to be seen hastily lunching
amidst all the clatter of knives, forks, and crockery. The three or
four waiters were not able to attend to all the requirements,
especially as they were hampered in their movements by the crowd
purchasing fruit, bread, and cold meat at the counter. It was at a
little table at the far end of the room that Raymonde was lunching with
Madame Desagneaux and Madame Volmar.

“Ah! here you are at last, mamma!” the girl exclaimed, as Madame de
Jonquiere approached. “I was just going back to fetch you. You
certainly ought to be allowed time to eat!”

She was laughing, with a very animated expression on her face, quite
delighted as she was with the adventures of the journey and this
indifferent scrambling meal. “There,” said she, “I have kept you some
trout with green sauce, and there’s a cutlet also waiting for you. We
have already got to the artichokes.”

Then everything became charming. The gaiety prevailing in that little
corner rejoiced the sight.

Young Madame Desagneaux was particularly adorable. A delicate blonde,
with wild, wavy, yellow hair, a round, dimpled, milky face, a gay,
laughing disposition, and a remarkably good heart, she had made a rich
marriage, and for three years past had been wont to leave her husband
at Trouville in the fine August weather, in order to accompany the
national pilgrimage as a lady-hospitaller. This was her great passion,
an access of quivering pity, a longing desire to place herself
unreservedly at the disposal of the sick for five days, a real debauch
of devotion from which she returned tired to death but full of intense
delight. Her only regret was that she as yet had no children, and with
comical passion, she occasionally expressed a regret that she had
missed her true vocation, that of a sister of charity.

“Ah! my dear,” she hastily said to Raymonde, “don’t pity your mother
for being so much taken up with her patients. She, at all events, has
something to occupy her.” And addressing herself to Madame de
Jonquiere, she added: “If you only knew how long we find the time in
our fine first-class carriage. We cannot even occupy ourselves with a
little needlework, as it is forbidden. I asked for a place with the
patients, but all were already distributed, so that my only resource
will be to try to sleep tonight.”

She began to laugh, and then resumed: “Yes, Madame Volmar, we will try
to sleep, won’t we, since talking seems to tire you?” Madame Volmar,
who looked over thirty, was very dark, with a long face and delicate
but drawn features. Her magnificent eyes shone out like brasiers,
though every now and then a cloud seemed to veil and extinguish them.
At the first glance she did not appear beautiful, but as you gazed at
her she became more and more perturbing, till she conquered you and
inspired you with passionate admiration. It should be said though that
she shrank from all self-assertion, comporting herself with much
modesty, ever keeping in the background, striving to hide her lustre,
invariably clad in black and unadorned by a single jewel, although she
was the wife of a Parisian diamond-merchant.

“Oh! for my part,” she murmured, “as long as I am not hustled too much
I am well pleased.”

She had been to Lourdes as an auxiliary lady-helper already on two
occasions, though but little had been seen of her there—at the hospital
of Our Lady of Dolours—as, on arriving, she had been overcome by such
great fatigue that she had been forced, she said, to keep her room.

However, Madame de Jonquiere, who managed the ward, treated her with
good-natured tolerance. “Ah! my poor friends,” said she, “there will be
plenty of time for you to exert yourselves. Get to sleep if you can,
and your turn will come when I can no longer keep up.” Then addressing
her daughter, she resumed: “And you would do well, darling, not to
excite yourself too much if you wish to keep your head clear.”

Raymonde smiled and gave her mother a reproachful glance: “Mamma,
mamma, why do you say that? Am I not sensible?” she asked.

Doubtless she was not boasting, for, despite her youthful, thoughtless
air, the air of one who simply feels happy in living, there appeared in
her grey eyes an expression of firm resolution, a resolution to shape
her life for herself.

“It is true,” the mother confessed with a little confusion, “this
little girl is at times more sensible than I am myself. Come, pass me
the cutlet—it is welcome, I assure you. Lord! how hungry I was!”

The meal continued, enlivened by the constant laughter of Madame
Desagneaux and Raymonde. The latter was very animated, and her face,
which was already growing somewhat yellow through long pining for a
suitor, again assumed the rosy bloom of twenty. They had to eat very
fast, for only ten minutes now remained to them. On all sides one heard
the growing tumult of customers who feared that they would not have
time to take their coffee.

All at once, however, Pierre made his appearance; a fit of stifling had
again come over La Grivotte; and Madame de Jonquiere hastily finished
her artichoke and returned to her compartment, after kissing her
daughter, who wished her “good-night” in a facetious way. The priest,
however, had made a movement of surprise on perceiving Madame Volmar
with the red cross of the lady-hospitallers on her black bodice. He
knew her, for he still called at long intervals on old Madame Volmar,
the diamond-merchant’s mother, who had been one of his own mother’s
friends. She was the most terrible woman in the world, religious beyond
all reason, so harsh and stern, moreover, as to close the very window
shutters in order to prevent her daughter-in-law from looking into the
street. And he knew the young woman’s story, how she had been
imprisoned on the very morrow of her marriage, shut up between her
mother-in-law, who tyrannised over her, and her husband, a repulsively
ugly monster who went so far as to beat her, mad as he was with
jealousy, although he himself kept mistresses. The unhappy woman was
not allowed out of the house excepting it were to go to mass. And one
day, at La Trinite, Pierre had surprised her secret, on seeing her
behind the church exchanging a few hasty words with a well-groomed,
distinguished-looking man.

The priest’s sudden appearance in the refreshment-room had somewhat
disconcerted Madame Volmar.

“What an unexpected meeting, Monsieur l’Abbe!” she said, offering him
her long, warm hand. “What a long time it is since I last saw you!” And
thereupon she explained that this was the third year she had gone to
Lourdes, her mother-in-law having required her to join the Association
of Our Lady of Salvation. “It is surprising that you did not see her at
the station when we started,” she added. “She sees me into the train
and comes to meet me on my return.”

This was said in an apparently simple way, but with such a subtle touch
of irony that Pierre fancied he could guess the truth. He knew that she
really had no religious principles at all, and that she merely followed
the rites and ceremonies of the Church in order that she might now and
again obtain an hour’s freedom; and all at once he intuitively realised
that someone must be waiting for her yonder, that it was for the
purpose of meeting him that she was thus hastening to Lourdes with her
shrinking yet ardent air and flaming eyes, which she so prudently
shrouded with a veil of lifeless indifference.

“For my part,” he answered, “I am accompanying a friend of my
childhood, a poor girl who is very ill indeed. I must ask your help for
her; you shall nurse her.”

Thereupon she faintly blushed, and he no longer doubted the truth of
his surmise. However, Raymonde was just then settling the bill with the
easy assurance of a girl who is expert in figures; and immediately
afterwards Madame Desagneaux led Madame Volmar away. The waiters were
now growing more distracted and the tables were fast being vacated;
for, on hearing a bell ring, everybody had begun to rush towards the

Pierre, on his side, was hastening back to his carriage, when he was
stopped by an old priest. “Ah! Monsieur le Cure,” he said, “I saw you
just before we started, but I was unable to get near enough to shake
hands with you.”

Thereupon he offered his hand to his brother ecclesiastic, who was
looking and smiling at him in a kindly way. The Abbe Judaine was the
parish priest of Saligny, a little village in the department of the
Oise. Tall and sturdy, he had a broad pink face, around which clustered
a mass of white, curly hair, and it could be divined by his appearance
that he was a worthy man whom neither the flesh nor the spirit had ever
tormented. He believed indeed firmly and absolutely, with a tranquil
godliness, never having known a struggle, endowed as he was with the
ready faith of a child who is unacquainted with human passions. And
ever since the Virgin at Lourdes had cured him of a disease of the
eyes, by a famous miracle which folks still talked about, his belief
had become yet more absolute and tender, as though impregnated with
divine gratitude.

“I am pleased that you are with us, my friend,” he gently said; “for
there is much in these pilgrimages for young priests to profit by. I am
told that some of them at times experience a feeling of rebellion.
Well, you will see all these poor people praying,—it is a sight which
will make you weep. How can one do otherwise than place oneself in
God’s hands, on seeing so much suffering cured or consoled?”

The old priest himself was accompanying a patient; and he pointed to a
first-class compartment, at the door of which hung a placard bearing
the inscription: “M. l’Abbe Judaine, Reserved.” Then lowering his
voice, he said: “It is Madame Dieulafay, you know, the great banker’s
wife. Their chateau, a royal domain, is in my parish, and when they
learned that the Blessed Virgin had vouchsafed me such an undeserved
favour, they begged me to intercede for their poor sufferer. I have
already said several masses, and most sincerely pray for her. There,
you see her yonder on the ground. She insisted on being taken out of
the carriage, in spite of all the trouble which one will have to place
her in it again.”

On a shady part of the platform, in a kind of long box, there was, as
the old priest said, a woman whose beautiful, perfectly oval face,
lighted up by splendid eyes, denoted no greater age than
six-and-twenty. She was suffering from a frightful disease. The
disappearance from her system of the calcareous salts had led to a
softening of the osseous framework, the slow destruction of her bones.
Three years previously, after the advent of a stillborn child, she had
felt vague pains in the spinal column. And then, little by little, her
bones had rarefied and lost shape, the vertebrae had sunk, the bones of
the pelvis had flattened, and those of the arms and legs had
contracted. Thus shrunken, melting away as it were, she had become a
mere human remnant, a nameless, fluid thing, which could not be set
erect, but had to be carried hither and thither with infinite care, for
fear lest she should vanish between one’s fingers. Her face, a
motionless face, on which sat a stupefied imbecile expression, still
retained its beauty of outline, and yet it was impossible to gaze at
this wretched shred of a woman without feeling a heart-pang, the keener
on account of all the luxury surrounding her; for not only was the box
in which she lay lined with blue quilted silk, but she was covered with
valuable lace, and a cap of rare valenciennes was set upon her head,
her wealth thus being proclaimed, displayed, in the midst of her awful

“Ah! how pitiable it is,” resumed the Abbe Judaine in an undertone. “To
think that she is so young, so pretty, possessed of millions of money!
And if you knew how dearly loved she was, with what adoration she is
still surrounded. That tall gentleman near her is her husband, that
elegantly dressed lady is her sister, Madame Jousseur.”

Pierre remembered having often noticed in the newspapers the name of
Madame Jousseur, wife of a diplomatist, and a conspicuous member of the
higher spheres of Catholic society in Paris. People had even circulated
a story of some great passion which she had fought against and
vanquished. She also was very prettily dressed, with marvellously
tasteful simplicity, and she ministered to the wants of her sorry
sister with an air of perfect devotion. As for the unhappy woman’s
husband, who at the age of five-and-thirty had inherited his father’s
colossal business, he was a clear-complexioned, well-groomed, handsome
man, clad in a closely buttoned frock-coat. His eyes, however, were
full of tears, for he adored his wife, and had left his business in
order to take her to Lourdes, placing his last hope in this appeal to
the mercy of Heaven.

Ever since the morning, Pierre had beheld many frightful sufferings in
that woeful white train. But none had so distressed his soul as did
that wretched female skeleton, slowly liquefying in the midst of its
lace and its millions. “The unhappy woman!” he murmured with a shudder.

The Abbe Judaine, however, made a gesture of serene hope. “The Blessed
Virgin will cure her,” said he; “I have prayed to her so much.”

Just then a bell again pealed, and this time it was really the signal
for starting. Only two minutes remained. There was a last rush, and
folks hurried back towards the train carrying eatables wrapped in
paper, and bottles and cans which they had filled with water. Several
of them quite lost their heads, and in their inability to find their
carriages, ran distractedly from one to the other end of the train;
whilst some of the infirm ones dragged themselves about amidst the
precipitate tapping of crutches, and others, only able to walk with
difficulty, strove to hasten their steps whilst leaning on the arms of
some of the lady-hospitallers. It was only with infinite difficulty
that four men managed to replace Madame Dieulafay in her first-class
compartment. The Vignerons, who were content with second-class
accommodation, had already reinstalled themselves in their quarters
amidst an extraordinary heap of baskets, boxes, and valises which
scarcely allowed little Gustave enough room to stretch his poor puny
limbs—the limbs as it were of a deformed insect. And then all the women
appeared again: Madame Maze gliding along in silence; Madame Vincent
raising her dear little girl in her outstretched arms and dreading lest
she should hear her cry out; Madame Vetu, whom it had been necessary to
push into the train, after rousing her from her stupefying torment; and
Elise Rouquet, who was quite drenched through her obstinacy in
endeavouring to drink from the tap, and was still wiping her monstrous
face. Whilst each returned to her place and the carriage filled once
more, Marie listened to her father, who had come back delighted with
his stroll to a pointsman’s little house beyond the station, whence a
really pleasant stretch of landscape could be discerned.

“Shall we lay you down again at once?” asked Pierre, sorely distressed
by the pained expression on Marie’s face.

“Oh no, no, by-and-by!” she replied. “I shall have plenty of time to
hear those wheels roaring in my head as though they were grinding my

Then, as Ferrand seemed on the point of returning to the cantine van,
Sister Hyacinthe begged him to take another look at the strange man
before he went off. She was still waiting for Father Massias,
astonished at the inexplicable delay in his arrival, but not yet
without hope, as Sister Claire des Anges had not returned.

“Pray, Monsieur Ferrand,” said she, “tell me if this unfortunate man is
in any immediate danger.”

The young doctor again looked at the sufferer, felt him, and listened
to his breathing. Then with a gesture of discouragement he answered in
a low voice, “I feel convinced that you will not get him to Lourdes

Every head was still anxiously stretched forward. If they had only
known the man’s name, the place he had come from, who he was! But it
was impossible to extract a word from this unhappy stranger, who was
about to die there, in that carriage, without anybody being able to
give his face a name!

It suddenly occurred to Sister Hyacinthe to have him searched. Under
the circumstances there could certainly be no harm in such a course.
“Feel in his pockets, Monsieur Ferrand,” she said.

The doctor thereupon searched the man in a gentle, cautious way, but
the only things that he found in his pockets were a chaplet, a knife,
and three sous. And nothing more was ever learnt of the man.

At that moment, however, a voice announced that Sister Claire des Anges
was at last coming back with Father Massias. All this while the latter
had simply been chatting with the priest of Sainte-Radegonde in one of
the waiting-rooms. Keen emotion attended his arrival; for a moment all
seemed saved. But the train was about to start, the porters were
already closing the carriage doors, and it was necessary that extreme
unction should be administered in all haste in order to avoid too long
a delay.

“This way, reverend Father!” exclaimed Sister Hyacinthe; “yes, yes,
pray come in; our unfortunate patient is here.”

Father Massias, who was five years older than Pierre, whose
fellow-student however he had been at the seminary, had a tall, spare
figure with an ascetic countenance, framed round with a light-coloured
beard and vividly lighted up by burning eyes, He was neither the priest
harassed by doubt, nor the priest with childlike faith, but an apostle
carried away by his passion, ever ready to fight and vanquish for the
pure glory of the Blessed Virgin. In his black cloak with its large
hood, and his broad-brimmed flossy hat, he shone resplendently with the
perpetual ardour of battle.

He immediately took from his pocket the silver case containing the Holy
Oils, and the ceremony began whilst the last carriage doors were being
slammed and belated pilgrims were rushing back to the train; the
station-master, meantime, anxiously glancing at the clock, and
realising that it would be necessary for him to grant a few minutes’

“/Credo in unum Deum/,” hastily murmured the Father.

“/Amen/,” replied Sister Hyacinthe and the other occupants of the

Those who had been able to do so, had knelt upon the seats, whilst the
others joined their hands, or repeatedly made the sign of the cross;
and when the murmured prayers were followed by the Litanies of the
ritual, every voice rose, an ardent desire for the remission of the
man’s sins and for his physical and spiritual cure winging its flight
heavenward with each successive /Kyrie eleison/. Might his whole life,
of which they knew nought, be forgiven him; might he enter, stranger
though he was, in triumph into the Kingdom of God!

“/Christe, exaudi nos/.”

“/Ora pro nobis, sancta Dei Genitrix/.”

Father Massias had pulled out the silver needle from which hung a drop
of Holy Oil. In the midst of such a scramble, with the whole train
waiting—many people now thrusting their heads out of the carriage
windows in surprise at the delay in starting—he could not think of
following the usual practice, of anointing in turn all the organs of
the senses, those portals of the soul which give admittance to evil.

He must content himself, as the rules authorised him to do in pressing
cases, with one anointment; and this he made upon the man’s lips, those
livid parted lips from between which only a faint breath escaped,
whilst the rest of his face, with its lowered eyelids, already seemed
indistinct, again merged into the dust of the earth.

“/Per istam sanctam unctionem/,” said the Father, “/et suam piissimam
misericordiam indulgeat tibi Dominus quidquid per visum, auditum,
odoratum, gustum, tactum, deliquisti.”*

  * Through this holy unction and His most tender mercy may the    
  Lord pardon thee whatever sins thou hast committed by thy sight,    
  hearing, etc.

The remainder of the ceremony was lost amid the hurry and scramble of
the departure. Father Massias scarcely had time to wipe off the oil
with the little piece of cotton-wool which Sister Hyacinthe held in
readiness, before he had to leave the compartment and get into his own
as fast as possible, setting the case containing the Holy Oils in order
as he did so, whilst the pilgrims finished repeating the final prayer.

“We cannot wait any longer! It is impossible!” repeated the
station-master as he bustled about. “Come, come, make haste everybody!”

At last then they were about to resume their journey. Everybody sat
down, returned to his or her corner again. Madame de Jonquiere,
however, had changed her place, in order to be nearer La Grivotte,
whose condition still worried her, and she was now seated in front of
M. Sabathier, who remained waiting with silent resignation. Moreover,
Sister Hyacinthe had not returned to her compartment, having decided to
remain near the unknown man so that she might watch over him and help
him. By following this course, too, she was able to minister to Brother
Isidore, whose sufferings his sister Marthe was at a loss to assuage.
And Marie, turning pale, felt the jolting of the train in her ailing
flesh, even before it had resumed its journey under the heavy sun,
rolling onward once more with its load of sufferers stifling in the
pestilential atmosphere of the over-heated carriages.

At last a loud whistle resounded, the engine puffed, and Sister
Hyacinthe rose up to say: The /Magnificat/, my children!


JUST as the train was beginning to move, the door of the compartment in
which Pierre and Marie found themselves was opened and a porter pushed
a girl of fourteen inside, saying: “There’s a seat here—make haste!”

The others were already pulling long faces and were about to protest,
when Sister Hyacinthe exclaimed: “What, is it you, Sophie? So you are
going back to see the Blessed Virgin who cured you last year!”

And at the same time Madame de Jonquiere remarked: “Ah! Sophie, my
little friend, I am very pleased to see that you are grateful.”

“Why, yes, Sister; why, yes, madame,” answered the girl, in a pretty

The carriage door had already been closed again, so that it was
necessary that they should accept the presence of this new pilgrim who
had fallen from heaven as it were at the very moment when the train,
which she had almost missed, was starting off again. She was a slender
damsel and would not take up much room. Moreover these ladies knew her,
and all the patients had turned their eyes upon her on hearing that the
Blessed Virgin had been pleased to cure her. They had now got beyond
the station, the engine was still puffing, whilst the wheels increased
their speed, and Sister Hyacinthe, clapping her hands, repeated: “Come,
come, my children, the /Magnificat/.”

Whilst the joyful chant arose amidst the jolting of the train, Pierre
gazed at Sophie. She was evidently a young peasant girl, the daughter
of some poor husbandman of the vicinity of Poitiers, petted by her
parents, treated in fact like a young lady since she had become the
subject of a miracle, one of the elect, whom the priests of the
district flocked to see. She wore a straw hat with pink ribbons, and a
grey woollen dress trimmed with a flounce. Her round face although not
pretty was a very pleasant one, with a beautifully fresh complexion and
clear, intelligent eyes which lent her a smiling, modest air.

When the /Magnificat/ had been sung, Pierre was unable to resist his
desire to question Sophie. A child of her age, with so candid an air,
so utterly unlike a liar, greatly interested him.

“And so you nearly missed the train, my child?” he said.

“I should have been much ashamed if I had, Monsieur l’Abbe,” she
replied. “I had been at the station since twelve o’clock. And all at
once I saw his reverence, the priest of Sainte-Radegonde, who knows me
well and who called me to him, to kiss me and tell me that it was very
good of me to go back to Lourdes. But it seems the train was starting
and I only just had time to run on to the platform. Oh! I ran so fast!”

She paused, laughing, still slightly out of breath, but already
repenting that she had been so giddy.

“And what is your name, my child?” asked Pierre.

“Sophie Couteau, Monsieur l’Abbe.”

“You do not belong to the town of Poitiers?”

“Oh no! certainly not. We belong to Vivonne, which is seven kilometres
away. My father and mother have a little land there, and things would
not be so bad if there were not eight children at home—I am the
fifth,—fortunately the four older ones are beginning to work.”

“And you, my child, what do you do?”

“I, Monsieur l’Abbe! Oh! I am no great help. Since last year, when I
came home cured, I have not been left quiet a single day, for, as you
can understand, so many people have come to see me, and then too I have
been taken to Monseigneur’s,* and to the convents and all manner of
other places. And before all that I was a long time ill. I could not
walk without a stick, and each step I took made me cry out, so
dreadfully did my foot hurt me.”

* The Bishop’s residence.

“So it was of some injury to the foot that the Blessed Virgin cured

Sophie did not have time to reply, for Sister Hyacinthe, who was
listening, intervened: “Of caries of the bones of the left heel, which
had been going on for three years,” said she. “The foot was swollen and
quite deformed, and there were fistulas giving egress to continual

On hearing this, all the sufferers in the carriage became intensely
interested. They no longer took their eyes off this little girl on whom
a miracle had been performed, but scanned her from head to foot as
though seeking for some sign of the prodigy. Those who were able to
stand rose up in order that they might the better see her, and the
others, the infirm ones, stretched on their mattresses, strove to raise
themselves and turn their heads. Amidst the suffering which had again
come upon them on leaving Poitiers, the terror which filled them at the
thought that they must continue rolling onward for another fifteen
hours, the sudden advent of this child, favoured by Heaven, was like a
divine relief, a ray of hope whence they would derive sufficient
strength to accomplish the remainder of their terrible journey. The
moaning had abated somewhat already, and every face was turned towards
the girl with an ardent desire to believe.

This was especially the case with Marie, who, already reviving, joined
her trembling hands, and in a gentle supplicating voice said to Pierre,
“Question her, pray question her, ask her to tell us everything—cured,
O God! cured of such a terrible complaint!”

Madame de Jonquiere, who was quite affected, had leant over the
partition to kiss the girl. “Certainly,” said she, “our little friend
will tell you all about it. Won’t you, my darling? You will tell us
what the Blessed Virgin did for you?”

“Oh, certainly! madame-as much as you like,” answered Sophie with her
smiling, modest air, her eyes gleaming with intelligence. Indeed, she
wished to begin at once, and raised her right hand with a pretty
gesture, as a sign to everybody to be attentive. Plainly enough, she
had already acquired the habit of speaking in public.

She could not be seen, however, from some parts of the carriage, and an
idea came to Sister Hyacinthe, who said: “Get up on the seat, Sophie,
and speak loudly, on account of the noise which the train makes.”

This amused the girl, and before beginning she needed time to become
serious again. “Well, it was like this,” said she; “my foot was past
cure, I couldn’t even go to church any more, and it had to be kept
bandaged, because there was always a lot of nasty matter coming from
it. Monsieur Rivoire, the doctor, who had made a cut in it, so as to
see inside it, said that he should be obliged to take out a piece of
the bone; and that, sure enough, would have made me lame for life. But
when I got to Lourdes and had prayed a great deal to the Blessed
Virgin, I went to dip my foot in the water, wishing so much that I
might be cured that I did not even take the time to pull the bandage
off. And everything remained in the water, there was no longer anything
the matter with my foot when I took it out.”

A murmur of mingled surprise, wonder, and desire arose and spread among
those who heard this marvellous tale, so sweet and soothing to all who
were in despair. But the little one had not yet finished. She had
simply paused. And now, making a fresh gesture, holding her arms
somewhat apart, she concluded: “When I got back to Vivonne and Monsieur
Rivoire saw my foot again, he said: ‘Whether it be God or the Devil who
has cured this child, it is all the same to me; but in all truth she
/is/ cured.’”

This time a burst of laughter rang out. The girl spoke in too
recitative a way, having repeated her story so many times already that
she knew it by heart. The doctor’s remark was sure to produce an
effect, and she herself laughed at it in advance, certain as she was
that the others would laugh also. However, she still retained her
candid, touching air.

But she had evidently forgotten some particular, for Sister Hyacinthe,
a glance from whom had foreshadowed the doctor’s jest, now softly
prompted her “And what was it you said to Madame la Comtesse, the
superintendent of your ward, Sophie?”

“Ah! yes. I hadn’t brought many bandages for my foot with me, and I
said to her, ‘It was very kind of the Blessed Virgin to cure me the
first day, as I should have run out of linen on the morrow.’”

This provoked a fresh outburst of delight. They all thought her so
nice, to have been cured like that! And in reply to a question from
Madame de Jonquiere, she also had to tell the story of her boots, a
pair of beautiful new boots which Madame la Comtesse had given her, and
in which she had run, jumped, and danced about, full of childish
delight. Boots! think of it, she who for three years had not even been
able to wear a slipper.

Pierre, who had become grave, waxing pale with the secret uneasiness
which was penetrating him, continued to look at her. And he also asked
her other questions. She was certainly not lying, and he merely
suspected a slow distortion of the actual truth, an easily explained
embellishment of the real facts amidst all the joy she felt at being
cured and becoming an important little personage. Who now knew if the
cicatrisation of her injuries, effected, so it was asserted,
completely, instantaneously, in a few seconds, had not in reality been
the work of days? Where were the witnesses?

Just then Madame de Jonquiere began to relate that she had been at the
hospital at the time referred to. “Sophie was not in my ward,” said
she, “but I had met her walking lame that very morning—”

Pierre hastily interrupted the lady-hospitaller. “Ah! you saw her foot
before and after the immersion?”

“No, no! I don’t think that anybody was able to see it, for it was
bound round with bandages. She told you that the bandages had fallen
into the piscina.” And, turning towards the child, Madame de Jonquiere
added, “But she will show you her foot—won’t you, Sophie? Undo your

The girl took off her shoe, and pulled down her stocking, with a
promptness and ease of manner which showed how thoroughly accustomed
she had become to it all. And she not only stretched out her foot,
which was very clean and very white, carefully tended indeed, with
well-cut, pink nails, but complacently turned it so that the young
priest might examine it at his ease. Just below the ankle there was a
long scar, whose whity seam, plainly defined, testified to the gravity
of the complaint from which the girl had suffered.

“Oh! take hold of the heel, Monsieur l’Abbe,” said she. “Press it as
hard as you like. I no longer feel any pain at all.”

Pierre made a gesture from which it might have been thought that he was
delighted with the power exercised by the Blessed Virgin. But he was
still tortured by doubt. What unknown force had acted in this case? Or
rather what faulty medical diagnosis, what assemblage of errors and
exaggerations, had ended in this fine tale?

All the patients, however, wished to see the miraculous foot, that
outward and visible sign of the divine cure which each of them was
going in search of. And it was Marie, sitting up in her box, and
already feeling less pain, who touched it first. Then Madame Maze,
quite roused from her melancholy, passed it on to Madame Vincent, who
would have kissed it for the hope which it restored to her. M.
Sabathier had listened to all the explanations with a beatific air;
Madame Vetu, La Grivotte, and even Brother Isidore opened their eyes,
and evinced signs of interest; whilst the face of Elise Rouquet had
assumed an extraordinary expression, transfigured by faith, almost
beatified. If a sore had thus disappeared, might not her own sore close
and disappear, her face retaining no trace of it save a slight scar,
and again becoming such a face as other people had? Sophie, who was
still standing, had to hold on to one of the iron rails, and place her
foot on the partition, now on the right, now on the left. And she did
not weary of it all, but felt exceedingly happy and proud at the many
exclamations which were raised, the quivering admiration and religious
respect which were bestowed on that little piece of her person, that
little foot which had now, so to say, become sacred.

“One must possess great faith, no doubt,” said Marie, thinking aloud.
“One must have a pure unspotted soul.” And, addressing herself to M. de
Guersaint, she added: “Father, I feel that I should get well if I were
ten years old, if I had the unspotted soul of a little girl.”

“But you are ten years old, my darling! Is it not so, Pierre? A little
girl of ten years old could not have a more spotless soul.”

Possessed of a mind prone to chimeras, M. de Guersaint was fond of
hearing tales of miracles. As for the young priest, profoundly affected
by the ardent purity which the young girl evinced, he no longer sought
to discuss the question, but let her surrender herself to the consoling
illusions which Sophie’s tale had wafted through the carriage.

The temperature had become yet more oppressive since their departure
from Poitiers, a storm was rising in the coppery sky, and it seemed as
though the train were rushing through a furnace. The villages passed,
mournful and solitary under the burning sun. At Couhe-Verac they had
again said their chaplets, and sung another canticle. At present,
however, there was some slight abatement of the religious exercises.
Sister Hyacinthe, who had not yet been able to lunch, ventured to eat a
roll and some fruit in all haste, whilst still ministering to the
strange man whose faint, painful breathing seemed to have become more
regular. And it was only on passing Ruffec at three o’clock that they
said the vespers of the Blessed Virgin.

“/Ora pro nobis, sancta Dei Genitrix/.”

“/Ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi/.”*

  * “Pray for us, O holy Mother of God,
     That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.”

As they were finishing, M. Sabathier, who had watched little Sophie
while she put on her shoe and stocking, turned towards M. de Guersaint.

“This child’s case is interesting, no doubt,” he remarked. “But it is a
mere nothing, monsieur, for there have been far more marvellous cures
than that. Do you know the story of Pierre de Rudder, a Belgian

Everybody had again begun to listen.

“This man,” continued M. Sabathier, “had his leg broken by the fall of
a tree. Eight years afterwards the two fragments of the bone had not
yet joined together again—the two ends could be seen in the depths of a
sore which was continually suppurating; and the leg hung down quite
limp, swaying in all directions. Well, it was sufficient for this man
to drink a glassful of the miraculous water, and his leg was made whole
again. He was able to walk without crutches, and the doctor said to
him: ‘Your leg is like that of a new-born child.’ Yes, indeed, a
perfectly new leg.”

Nobody spoke, but the listeners exchanged glances of ecstasy.

“And, by the way,” resumed M. Sabathier, “it is like the story of Louis
Bouriette, a quarryman, one of the first of the Lourdes miracles. Do
you know it? Bouriette had been injured by an explosion during some
blasting operations. The sight of his right eye was altogether
destroyed, and he was even threatened with the loss of the left one.
Well, one day he sent his daughter to fetch a bottleful of the muddy
water of the source, which then scarcely bubbled up to the surface. He
washed his eye with this muddy liquid, and prayed fervently. And, all
at once, he raised a cry, for he could see, monsieur, see as well as
you and I. The doctor who was attending him drew up a detailed
narrative of the case, and there cannot be the slightest doubt about
its truth.”

“It is marvellous,” murmured M. de Guersaint in his delight.

“Would you like another example, monsieur? I can give you a famous one,
that of Francois Macary, the carpenter of Lavaur. During eighteen years
he had suffered from a deep varicose ulcer, with considerable
enlargement of the tissues in the mesial part of the left leg. He had
reached such a point that he could no longer move, and science decreed
that he would forever remain infirm. Well, one evening he shuts himself
up with a bottle of Lourdes water. He takes off his bandages, washes
both his legs, and drinks what little water then remains in the bottle.
Then he goes to bed and falls asleep; and when he awakes, he feels his
legs and looks at them. There is nothing left; the varicose
enlargement, the ulcers, have all disappeared. The skin of his knee,
monsieur, had become as smooth, as fresh as it had been when he was

This time there was an explosion of surprise and admiration. The
patients and the pilgrims were entering into the enchanted land of
miracles, where impossibilities are accomplished at each bend of the
pathways, where one marches on at ease from prodigy to prodigy. And
each had his or her story to tell, burning with a desire to contribute
a fresh proof, to fortify faith and hope by yet another example.

That silent creature, Madame Maze, was so transported that she spoke
the first. “I have a friend,” said she, “who knew the Widow Rizan, that
lady whose cure also created so great a stir. For four-and-twenty years
her left side had been entirely paralysed. Her stomach was unable to
retain any solid food, and she had become an inert bag of bones which
had to be turned over in bed, The friction of the sheets, too, had
ended by rubbing her skin away in parts. Well, she was so low one
evening that the doctor announced that she would die during the night.
An hour later, however, she emerged from her torpor and asked her
daughter in a faint voice to go and fetch her a glass of Lourdes water
from a neighbour’s. But she was only able to obtain this glass of water
on the following morning; and she cried out to her daughter: ‘Oh! it is
life that I am drinking—rub my face with it, rub my arm and my leg, rub
my whole body with it!’ And when her daughter obeyed her, she gradually
saw the huge swelling subside, and the paralysed, tumefied limbs
recover their natural suppleness and appearance. Nor was that all, for
Madame Rizan cried out that she was cured and felt hungry, and wanted
bread and meat—she who had eaten none for four-and-twenty years! And
she got out of bed and dressed herself, whilst her daughter, who was so
overpowered that the neighbours thought she had become an orphan,
replied to them: ‘No, no, mamma isn’t dead, she has come to life

This narrative had brought tears to Madame Vincent’s eyes. Ah! if she
had only been able to see her little Rose recover like that, eat with a
good appetite, and run about again! At the same time, another case,
which she had been told of in Paris and which had greatly influenced
her in deciding to take her ailing child to Lourdes, returned to her

“And I, too,” said she, “know the story of a girl who was paralysed.
Her name was Lucie Druon, and she was an inmate of an orphan asylum.
She was quite young and could not even kneel down. Her limbs were bent
like hoops. Her right leg, the shorter of the two, had ended by
becoming twisted round the left one; and when any of the other girls
carried her about you saw her feet hanging down quite limp, like dead
ones. Please notice that she did not even go to Lourdes. She simply
performed a novena; but she fasted during the nine days, and her desire
to be cured was so great that she spent her nights in prayer. At last,
on the ninth day, whilst she was drinking a little Lourdes water, she
felt a violent commotion in her legs. She picked herself up, fell down,
picked herself up again and walked. All her little companions, who were
astonished, almost frightened at the sight, began to cry out ‘Lucie can
walk! Lucie can walk!’ It was quite true. In a few seconds her legs had
become straight and strong and healthy. She crossed the courtyard and
was able to climb up the steps of the chapel, where the whole
sisterhood, transported with gratitude, chanted the /Magnificat/. Ah!
the dear child, how happy, how happy she must have been!”

As Madame Vincent finished, two tears fell from her cheeks on to the
pale face of her little girl, whom she kissed distractedly.

The general interest was still increasing, becoming quite impassioned.
The rapturous joy born of these beautiful stories, in which Heaven
invariably triumphed over human reality, transported these childlike
souls to such a point that those who were suffering the most grievously
sat up in their turn, and recovered the power of speech. And with the
narratives of one and all was blended a thought of the sufferer’s own
ailment, a belief that he or she would also be cured, since a malady of
the same description had vanished like an evil dream beneath the breath
of the Divinity.

“Ah!” stammered Madame Vetu, her articulation hindered by her
sufferings, “there was another one, Antoinette Thardivail, whose
stomach was being eaten away like mine. You would have said that dogs
were devouring it, and sometimes there was a swelling in it as big as a
child’s head. Tumours indeed were ever forming in it, like fowl’s eggs,
so that for eight months she brought up blood. And she also was at the
point of death, with nothing but her skin left on her bones, and dying
of hunger, when she drank some water of Lourdes and had the pit of her
stomach washed with it. Three minutes afterwards, her doctor, who on
the previous day had left her almost in the last throes, scarce
breathing, found her up and sitting by the fireside, eating a tender
chicken’s wing with a good appetite. She had no more tumours, she
laughed as she had laughed when she was twenty, and her face had
regained the brilliancy of youth. Ah! to be able to eat what one likes,
to become young again, to cease suffering!”

“And the cure of Sister Julienne!” then exclaimed La Grivotte, raising
herself on one of her elbows, her eyes glittering with fever. “In her
case it commenced with a bad cold as it did with me, and then she began
to spit blood. And every six months she fell ill again and had to take
to her bed. The last time everybody said that she wouldn’t leave it
alive. The doctors had vainly tried every remedy, iodine, blistering,
and cauterising. In fact, hers was a real case of phthisis, certified
by half a dozen medical men. Well, she comes to Lourdes, and Heaven
alone knows amidst what awful suffering—she was so bad, indeed, that at
Toulouse they thought for a moment that she was about to die! The
Sisters had to carry her in their arms, and on reaching the piscina the
lady-hospitallers wouldn’t bathe her. She was dead, they said. No
matter! she was undressed at last, and plunged into the water, quite
unconscious and covered with perspiration. And when they took her out
she was so pale that they laid her on the ground, thinking that it was
certainly all over with her at last. But, all at once, colour came back
to her cheeks, her eyes opened, and she drew a long breath. She was
cured; she dressed herself without any help and made a good meal after
she had been to the Grotto to thank the Blessed Virgin. There! there’s
no gainsaying it, that was a real case of phthisis, completely cured as
though by medicine!”

Thereupon Brother Isidore in his turn wished to speak; but he was
unable to do so at any length, and could only with difficulty manage to
say to his sister: “Marthe, tell them the story of Sister Dorothee
which the priest of Saint-Sauveur related to us.”

“Sister Dorothee,” began the peasant girl in an awkward way, “felt her
leg quite numbed when she got up one morning, and from that time she
lost the use of it, for it got as cold and as heavy as a stone. Besides
which she felt a great pain in the back. The doctors couldn’t
understand it. She saw half a dozen of them, who pricked her with pins
and burnt her skin with a lot of drugs. But it was just as if they had
sung to her. Sister Dorothee had well understood that only the Blessed
Virgin could find the right remedy for her, and so she went off to
Lourdes, and had herself dipped in the piscina. She thought at first
that the water was going to kill her, for it was so bitterly cold. But
by-and-by it became so soft that she fancied it was warm, as nice as
milk. She had never felt so nice before, it seemed to her as if her
veins were opening and the water were flowing into them. As you will
understand, life was returning into her body since the Blessed Virgin
was concerning herself in the case. She no longer had anything the
matter with her when she came out, but walked about, ate the whole of a
pigeon for her dinner, and slept all night long like the happy woman
she was. Glory to the Blessed Virgin, eternal gratitude to the most
Powerful Mother and her Divine Son!”

Elise Rouquet would also have liked to bring forward a miracle which
she was acquainted with. Only she spoke with so much difficulty owing
to the deformity of her mouth, that she had not yet been able to secure
a turn. Just then, however, there was a pause, and drawing the wrap,
which concealed the horror of her sore, slightly on one side, she
profited by the opportunity to begin.

“For my part, I wasn’t told anything about a great illness, but it was
a very funny case at all events,” she said. “It was about a woman,
Celestine Dubois, as she was called, who had run a needle right into
her hand while she was washing. It stopped there for seven years, for
no doctor was able to take it out. Her hand shrivelled up, and she
could no longer open it. Well, she got to Lourdes, and dipped her hand
into the piscina. But as soon as she did so she began to shriek, and
took it out again. Then they caught hold of her and put her hand into
the water by force, and kept it there while she continued sobbing, with
her face covered with sweat. Three times did they plunge her hand into
the piscina, and each time they saw the needle moving along, till it
came out by the tip of the thumb. She shrieked, of course, because the
needle was moving though her flesh just as though somebody had been
pushing it to drive it out. And after that Celestine never suffered
again, and only a little scar could be seen on her hand as a mark of
what the Blessed Virgin had done.”

This anecdote produced a greater effect than even the miraculous cures
of the most fearful illnesses. A needle which moved as though somebody
were pushing it! This peopled the Invisible, showed each sufferer his
Guardian Angel standing behind him, only awaiting the orders of Heaven
in order to render him assistance. And besides, how pretty and
childlike the story was—this needle which came out in the miraculous
water after obstinately refusing to stir during seven long years.
Exclamations of delight resounded from all the pleased listeners; they
smiled and laughed with satisfaction, radiant at finding that nothing
was beyond the power of Heaven, and that if it were Heaven’s pleasure
they themselves would all become healthy, young, and superb. It was
sufficient that one should fervently believe and pray in order that
nature might be confounded and that the Incredible might come to pass.
Apart from that there was merely a question of good luck, since Heaven
seemed to make a selection of those sufferers who should be cured.

“Oh! how beautiful it is, father,” murmured Marie, who, revived by the
passionate interest which she took in the momentous subject, had so far
contented herself with listening, dumb with amazement as it were. “Do
you remember,” she continued, “what you yourself told me of that poor
woman, Joachine Dehaut, who came from Belgium and made her way right
across France with her twisted leg eaten away by an ulcer, the awful
smell of which drove everybody away from her? First of all the ulcer
was healed; you could press her knee and she felt nothing, only a
slight redness remained to mark where it had been. And then came the
turn of the dislocation. She shrieked while she was in the water, it
seemed to her as if somebody were breaking her bones, pulling her leg
away from her; and, at the same time, she and the woman who was bathing
her, saw her deformed foot rise and extend into its natural shape with
the regular movement of a clock hand. Her leg also straightened itself,
the muscles extended, the knee replaced itself in its proper position,
all amidst such acute pain that Joachine ended by fainting. But as soon
as she recovered consciousness, she darted off, erect and agile, to
carry her crutches to the Grotto.”

M. de Guersaint in his turn was laughing with wonderment, waving his
hand to confirm this story, which had been told him by a Father of the
Assumption. He could have related a score of similar instances, said
he, each more touching, more extraordinary than the other. He even
invoked Pierre’s testimony, and the young priest, who was unable to
believe, contented himself with nodding his head. At first, unwilling
as he was to afflict Marie, he had striven to divert his thoughts by
gazing though the carriage window at the fields, trees, and houses
which defiled before his eyes. They had just passed Angouleme, and
meadows stretched out, and lines of poplar trees fled away amidst the
continuous fanning of the air, which the velocity of the train

They were late, no doubt, for they were hastening onward at full speed,
thundering along under the stormy sky, through the fiery atmosphere,
devouring kilometre after kilometre in swift succession. However,
despite himself, Pierre heard snatches of the various narratives, and
grew interested in these extravagant stories, which the rough jolting
of the wheels accompanied like a lullaby, as though the engine had been
turned loose and were wildly bearing them away to the divine land of
dreams, They were rolling, still rolling along, and Pierre at last
ceased to gaze at the landscape, and surrendered himself to the heavy,
sleep-inviting atmosphere of the carriage, where ecstasy was growing
and spreading, carrying everyone far from the world of reality across
which they were so rapidly rushing, The sight of Marie’s face with its
brightened look filled the young priest with sincere joy, and he let
her retain his hand, which she had taken in order to acquaint him, by
the pressure of her fingers, with all the confidence which was reviving
in her soul. And why should he have saddened her by his doubts, since
he was so desirous of her cure? So he continued clasping her small,
moist hand, feeling infinite affection for her, a dolorous brotherly
love which distracted him, and made him anxious to believe in the pity
of the spheres, in a superior kindness which tempered suffering to
those who were plunged in despair, “Oh!” she repeated, “how beautiful
it is, Pierre! How beautiful it is! And what glory it will be if the
Blessed Virgin deigns to disturb herself for me! Do you really think me
worthy of such a favour?”

“Assuredly I do,” he exclaimed; “you are the best and the purest, with
a spotless soul as your father said; there are not enough good angels
in Paradise to form your escort.”

But the narratives were not yet finished. Sister Hyacinthe and Madame
de Jonquiere were now enumerating all the miracles with which they were
acquainted, the long, long series of miracles which for more than
thirty years had been flowering at Lourdes, like the uninterrupted
budding of the roses on the Mystical Rose-tree. They could be counted
by thousands, they put forth fresh shoots every year with prodigious
verdancy of sap, becoming brighter and brighter each successive season.
And the sufferers who listened to these marvellous stories with
increasing feverishness were like little children who, after hearing
one fine fairy tale, ask for another, and another, and yet another. Oh!
that they might have more and more of those stories in which evil
reality was flouted, in which unjust nature was cuffed and slapped, in
which the Divinity intervened as the supreme healer, He who laughs at
science and distributes happiness according to His own good pleasure.

First of all there were the deaf and the dumb who suddenly heard and
spoke; such as Aurelie Bruneau, who was incurably deaf, with the drums
of both ears broken, and yet was suddenly enraptured by the celestial
music of a harmonium; such also as Louise Pourchet, who on her side had
been dumb for five-and-twenty years, and yet, whilst praying in the
Grotto, suddenly exclaimed, “Hail, Mary, full of grace!” And there were
others and yet others who were completely cured by merely letting a few
drops of water fall into their ears or upon their tongues. Then came
the procession of the blind: Father Hermann, who felt the Blessed
Virgin’s gentle hand removing the veil which covered his eyes;
Mademoiselle de Pontbriant, who was threatened with a total loss of
sight, but after a simple prayer was enabled to see better than she had
ever seen before; then a child twelve years old whose corneas resembled
marbles, but who, in three seconds, became possessed of clear, deep
eyes, bright with an angelic smile. However, there was especially an
abundance of paralytics, of lame people suddenly enabled to walk
upright, of sufferers for long years powerless to stir from their beds
of misery and to whom the voice said: “Arise and walk!” Delannoy,*
afflicted with ataxia, vainly cauterised and burnt, fifteen times an
inmate of the Paris hospitals, whence he had emerged with the
concurring diagnosis of twelve doctors, feels a strange force raising
him up as the Blessed Sacrament goes by, and he begins to follow it,
his legs strong and healthy once more. Marie Louise Delpon, a girl of
fourteen, suffering from paralysis which had stiffened her legs, drawn
back her hands, and twisted her mouth on one side, sees her limbs
loosen and the distortion of her mouth disappear as though an invisible
hand were severing the fearful bonds which had deformed her. Marie
Vachier, riveted to her arm-chair during seventeen years by paraplegia,
not only runs and flies on emerging from the piscina, but finds no
trace even of the sores with which her long-enforced immobility had
covered her body. And Georges Hanquet, attacked by softening of the
spinal marrow, passes without transition from agony to perfect health;
while Leonie Charton, likewise afflicted with softening of the medulla,
and whose vertebrae bulge out to a considerable extent, feels her hump
melting away as though by enchantment, and her legs rise and
straighten, renovated and vigorous.

* This was one of the most notorious of the recorded cases and had a
very strange sequel subsequent to the first publication of this work.
Pierre Delannoy had been employed as a ward-assistant in one of the
large Paris hospitals from 1877 to 1881, when he came to the conclusion
that the life of an in-patient was far preferable to the one he was
leading. He, therefore, resolved to pass the rest of his days inside
different hospitals in the capacity of invalid. He started by feigning
locomotor ataxia, and for six years deceived the highest medical
experts in Paris, so curiously did he appear to suffer. He stayed in
turn in all the hospitals in the city, being treated with every care
and consideration, until at last he met with a doctor who insisted on
cauterisation and other disagreeable remedies. Delannoy thereupon
opined that the time to be cured had arrived, and cured he became, and
was discharged. He next appeared at Lourdes, supported by crutches, and
presenting every symptom of being hopelessly crippled. With other
infirm and decrepid people he was dipped in the piscina and so
efficacious did this treatment prove that he came out another man,
threw his crutches to the ground and walked, as an onlooker expressed
it, “like a rural postman.” All Lourdes rang with the fame of the
miracle, and the Church, after starring Delannoy round the country as a
specimen of what could be done at the holy spring, placed him in charge
of a home for invalids. But this was too much like hard work, and he
soon decamped with all the money he could lay his hands on. Returning
to Paris he was admitted to the Hospital of Ste. Anne as suffering from
mental debility, but this did not prevent him from running off one
night with about $300 belonging to a dispenser. The police were put on
his track and arrested him in May, 1895, when he tried to pass himself
off as a lunatic; but he had become by this time too well known, and
was indicted in due course. At his trial he energetically denied that
he had ever shammed, but the Court would not believe him, and sentenced
him to four years’ imprisonment with hard labour. —Trans.

Then came all sorts of ailments. First those brought about by
scrofula—a great many more legs long incapable of service and made
anew. There was Margaret Gehier, who had suffered from coxalgia for
seven-and-twenty years, whose hip was devoured by the disease, whose
left knee was anchylosed, and who yet was suddenly able to fall upon
her knees to thank the Blessed Virgin for healing her. There was also
Philomene Simonneau, the young Vendeenne, whose left leg was perforated
by three horrible sores in the depths of which her carious bones were
visible, and whose bones, whose flesh, and whose skin were all formed

Next came the dropsical ones: Madame Ancelin, the swelling of whose
feet, hands, and entire body subsided without anyone being able to tell
whither all the water had gone; Mademoiselle Montagnon, from whom, on
various occasions, nearly twenty quarts of water had been drawn, and
who, on again swelling, was entirely rid of the fluid by the
application of a bandage which had been dipped in the miraculous
source. And, in her case also, none of the water could be found, either
in her bed or on the floor. In the same way, not a complaint of the
stomach resisted, all disappeared with the first glass of water. There
was Marie Souchet, who vomited black blood, who had wasted to a
skeleton, and who devoured her food and recovered her flesh in two
days’ time! There was Marie Jarlaud, who had burnt herself internally
through drinking a glass of a metallic solution used for cleansing and
brightening kitchen utensils, and who felt the tumour which had
resulted from her injuries melt rapidly away. Moreover, every tumour
disappeared in this fashion, in the piscina, without leaving the
slightest trace behind. But that which caused yet greater wonderment
was the manner in which ulcers, cancers, all sorts of horrible, visible
sores were cicatrised as by a breath from on high. A Jew, an actor,
whose hand was devoured by an ulcer, merely had to dip it in the water
and he was cured. A very wealthy young foreigner, who had a wen as
large as a hen’s egg, on his right wrist, /beheld/ it dissolve. Rose
Duval, who, as a result of a white tumour, had a hole in her left
elbow, large enough to accommodate a walnut, was able to watch and
follow the prompt action of the new flesh in filling up this cavity!
The Widow Fromond, with a lip half decoyed by a cancerous formation,
merely had to apply the miraculous water to it as a lotion, and not
even a red mark remained. Marie Moreau, who experienced fearful
sufferings from a cancer in the breast, fell asleep, after laying on it
a linen cloth soaked in some water of Lourdes, and when she awoke, two
hours later, the pain had disappeared, and her flesh was once more
smooth and pink and fresh.

At last Sister Hyacinthe began to speak of the immediate and complete
cures of phthisis, and this was the triumph, the healing of that
terrible disease which ravages humanity, which unbelievers defied the
Blessed Virgin to cure, but which she did cure, it was said, by merely
raising her little finger. A hundred instances, more extraordinary one
than the other, pressed forward for citation.

Marguerite Coupel, who had suffered from phthisis for three years, and
the upper part of whose lungs is destroyed by tuberculosis, rises up
and goes off, radiant with health. Madame de la Riviere, who spits
blood, who is ever covered with a cold perspiration, whose nails have
already acquired a violet tinge, who is indeed on the point of drawing
her last breath, requires but a spoonful of the water to be
administered to her between her teeth, and lo! the rattles cease, she
sits up, makes the responses to the litanies, and asks for some broth.
Julie Jadot requires four spoonfuls; but then she could no longer hold
up her head, she was of such a delicate constitution that disease had
reduced her to nothing; and yet, in a few days, she becomes quite fat.
Anna Catry, who is in the most advanced stage of the malady, with her
left lung half destroyed by a cavity, is plunged five times into the
cold water, contrary to all the dictates of prudence, and she is cured,
her lung is healthy once more. Another consumptive girl, condemned by
fifteen doctors, has asked nothing, has simply fallen on her knees in
the Grotto, by chance as it were, and is afterwards quite surprised at
having been cured /au passage/, through the lucky circumstance of
having been there, no doubt, at the hour when the Blessed Virgin, moved
to pity, allows miracles to fall from her invisible hands.

Miracles and yet more miracles! They rained down like the flowers of
dreams from a clear and balmy sky. Some of them were touching, some of
them were childish. An old woman, who, having her hand anchylosed, had
been incapable of moving it for thirty years, washes it in the water
and is at once able to make the sign of the Cross. Sister Sophie, who
barked like a dog, plunges into the piscina and emerges from it with a
clear, pure voice, chanting a canticle. Mustapha, a Turk, invokes the
White Lady and recovers the use of his right eye by applying a compress
to it. An officer of Turcos was protected at Sedan; a cuirassier of
Reichsoffen would have died, pierced in the heart by a bullet, if this
bullet after passing though his pocket-book had not stayed its flight
on reaching a little picture of Our Lady of Lourdes! And, as with the
men and women, so did the children, the poor, suffering little ones,
find mercy; a paralytic boy of five rose and walked after being held
for five minutes under the icy jet of the spring; another one, fifteen
years of age, who, lying in bed, could only raise an inarticulate cry,
sprang out of the piscina, shouting that he was cured; another one, but
two years old, a poor tiny fellow who had never been able to walk,
remained for a quarter of an hour in the cold water and then,
invigorated and smiling, took his first steps like a little man! And
for all of them, the little ones as well as the adults, the pain was
acute whilst the miracle was being accomplished; for the work of repair
could not be effected without causing an extraordinary shock to the
whole human organism; the bones grew again, new flesh was formed, and
the disease, driven away, made its escape in a final convulsion. But
how great was the feeling of comfort which followed! The doctors could
not believe their eyes, their astonishment burst forth at each fresh
cure, when they saw the patients whom they had despaired of run and
jump and eat with ravenous appetites. All these chosen ones, these
women cured of their ailments, walked a couple of miles, sat down to
roast fowl, and slept the soundest of sleeps for a dozen hours.
Moreover, there was no convalescence, it was a sudden leap from the
death throes to complete health. Limbs were renovated, sores were
filled up, organs were reformed in their entirety, plumpness returned
to the emaciated, all with the velocity of a lightning flash! Science
was completely baffled. Not even the most simple precautions were
taken, women were bathed at all times and seasons, perspiring
consumptives were plunged into the icy water, sores were left to their
putrefaction without any thought of employing antiseptics. And then
what canticles of joy, what shouts of gratitude and love arose at each
fresh miracle! The favoured one falls upon her knees, all who are
present weep, conversions are effected, Protestants and Jews alike
embrace Catholicism—other miracles these, miracles of faith, at which
Heaven triumphs. And when the favoured one, chosen for the miracle,
returns to her village, all the inhabitants crowd to meet her, whilst
the bells peal merrily; and when she is seen springing lightly from the
vehicle which has brought her home, shouts and sobs of joy burst forth
and all intonate the /Magnificat/: Glory to the Blessed Virgin!
Gratitude and love for ever!

Indeed, that which was more particularly evolved from the realisation
of all these hopes, from the celebration of all these ardent
thanksgivings, was gratitude—gratitude to the Mother most pure and most
admirable. She was the great passion of every soul, she, the Virgin
most powerful, the Virgin most merciful, the Mirror of Justice, the
Seat of Wisdom.* All hands were stretched towards her, Mystical Rose in
the dim light of the chapels, Tower of Ivory on the horizon of
dreamland, Gate of Heaven leading into the Infinite. Each day at early
dawn she shone forth, bright Morning Star, gay with juvenescent hope.
And was she not also the Health of the weak, the Refuge of sinners, the
Comforter of the afflicted? France had ever been her well-loved
country, she was adored there with an ardent worship, the worship of
her womanhood and her motherhood, the soaring of a divine affection;
and it was particularly in France that it pleased her to show herself
to little shepherdesses. She was so good to the little and the humble;
she continually occupied herself with them; and if she was appealed to
so willingly it was because she was known to be the intermediary of
love betwixt Earth and Heaven. Every evening she wept tears of gold at
the feet of her divine Son to obtain favours from Him, and these
favours were the miracles which He permitted her to work,—these
beautiful, flower-like miracles, as sweet-scented as the roses of
Paradise, so prodigiously splendid and fragrant.

* For the information of Protestant and other non-Catholic readers it
may be mentioned that all the titles enumerated in this passage are
taken from the Litany of the Blessed Virgin.—Trans.

But the train was still rolling, rolling onward. They had just passed
Contras, it was six o’clock, and Sister Hyacinthe, rising to her, feet,
clapped her hands together and once again repeated: “The Angelus, my

Never had “Aves” impregnated with greater faith, inflamed with a more
fervent desire to be heard by Heaven, winged their flight on high. And
Pierre suddenly understood everything, clearly realised the meaning of
all these pilgrimages, of all these trains rolling along through every
country of the civilised world, of all these eager crowds, hastening
towards Lourdes, which blazed over yonder like the abode of salvation
for body and for mind. Ah! the poor wretches whom, ever since morning,
he had heard groaning with pain, the poor wretches who exposed their
sorry carcasses to the fatigues of such a journey! They were all
condemned, abandoned by science, weary of consulting doctors, of having
tried the torturing effects of futile remedies. And how well one could
understand that, burning with a desire to preserve their lives, unable
to resign themselves to the injustice and indifference of Nature, they
should dream of a superhuman power, of an almighty Divinity who, in
their favour, would perchance annul the established laws, alter the
course of the planets, and reconsider His creation! For if the world
failed them, did not the Divinity remain to them? In their cases
reality was too abominable, and an immense need of illusion and
falsehood sprang up within them. Oh! to believe that there is a supreme
Justiciar somewhere, one who rights the apparent wrongs of things and
beings; to believe that there is a Redeemer, a consoler who is the real
master, who can carry the torrents back to their source, who can
restore youth to the aged, and life to the dead! And when you are
covered with sores, when your limbs are twisted, when your stomach is
swollen by tumours, when your lungs are destroyed by disease, to be
able to say that all this is of no consequence, that everything may
disappear and be renewed at a sign from the Blessed Virgin, that it is
sufficient that you should pray to her, touch her heart, and obtain the
favour of being chosen by her. And then what a heavenly fount of hope
appeared with the prodigious flow of those beautiful stories of cure,
those adorable fairy tales which lulled and intoxicated the feverish
imaginations of the sick and the infirm. Since little Sophie Couteau,
with her white, sound foot, had climbed into that carriage, opening to
the gaze of those within it the limitless heavens of the Divine and the
Supernatural, how well one could understand the breath of resurrection
that was passing over the world, slowly raising those who despaired the
most from their beds of misery, and making their eyes shine since life
was itself a possibility for them, and they were, perhaps, about to
begin it afresh.

Yes, ’t was indeed that. If that woeful train was rolling, rolling on,
if that carriage was full, if the other carriages were full also, if
France and the world, from the uttermost limits of the earth, were
crossed by similar trains, if crowds of three hundred thousand
believers, bringing thousands of sick along with them, were ever
setting out, from one end of the year to the other, it was because the
Grotto yonder was shining forth in its glory like a beacon of hope and
illusion, like a sign of the revolt and triumph of the Impossible over
inexorable materiality. Never had a more impassionating romance been
devised to exalt the souls of men above the stern laws of life. To
dream that dream, this was the great, the ineffable happiness. If the
Fathers of the Assumption had seen the success of their pilgrimages
increase and spread from year to year, it was because they sold to all
the flocking peoples the bread of consolation and illusion, the
delicious bread of hope, for which suffering humanity ever hungers with
a hunger that nothing will ever appease. And it was not merely the
physical sores which cried aloud for cure, the whole of man’s moral and
intellectual being likewise shrieked forth its wretchedness, with an
insatiable yearning for happiness. To be happy, to place the certainty
of life in faith, to lean till death should come upon that one strong
staff of travel—such was the desire exhaled by every breast, the desire
which made every moral grief bend the knee, imploring a continuance of
grace, the conversion of dear ones, the spiritual salvation of self and
those one loved. The mighty cry spread from pole to pole, ascended and
filled all the regions of space: To be happy, happy for evermore, both
in life and in death!

And Pierre saw the suffering beings around him lose all perception of
the jolting and recover their strength as league by league they drew
nearer to the miracle. Even Madame Maze grew talkative, certain as she
felt that the Blessed Virgin would restore her husband to her. With a
smile on her face Madame Vincent gently rocked her little Rose in her
arms, thinking that she was not nearly so ill as those all but lifeless
children who, after being plunged in the icy water, sprang out and
played. M. Sabathier jested with M. de Guersaint, and explained to him
that, next October, when he had recovered the use of his legs, he
should go on a trip to Rome—a journey which he had been postponing for
fifteen years and more. Madame Vetu, quite calmed, feeling nothing but
a slight twinge in the stomach, imagined that she was hungry, and asked
Madame de Jonquiere to let her dip some strips of bread in a glass of
milk; whilst Elise Rouquet, forgetting her sores, ate some grapes, with
face uncovered. And in La Grivotte who was sitting up and Brother
Isidore who had ceased moaning, all those fine stories had left a
pleasant fever, to such a point that, impatient to be cured, they grew
anxious to know the time. For a minute also the man, the strange man,
resuscitated. Whilst Sister Hyacinthe was again wiping the cold sweat
from his brow, he raised his eyelids, and a smile momentarily
brightened his pallid countenance. Yet once again he, also, had hoped.

Marie was still holding Pierre’s fingers in her own small, warm hand.
It was seven o’clock, they were not due at Bordeaux till half-past
seven; and the belated train was quickening its pace yet more and more,
rushing along with wild speed in order to make up for the minutes it
had lost. The storm had ended by coming down, and now a gentle light of
infinite purity fell from the vast clear heavens.

“Oh! how beautiful it is, Pierre—how beautiful it is!” Marie again
repeated, pressing his hand with tender affection. And leaning towards
him, she added in an undertone: “I beheld the Blessed Virgin a little
while ago, Pierre, and it was your cure that I implored and shall

The priest, who understood her meaning, was thrown into confusion by
the divine light which gleamed in her eyes as she fixed them on his
own. She had forgotten her own sufferings; that which she had asked for
was his conversion; and that prayer of faith, emanating, pure and
candid, from that dear, suffering creature, upset his soul. Yet why
should he not believe some day? He himself had been distracted by all
those extraordinary narratives. The stifling heat of the carriage had
made him dizzy, the sight of all the woe heaped up there caused his
heart to bleed with pity. And contagion was doing its work; he no
longer knew where the real and the possible ceased, he lacked the power
to disentangle such a mass of stupefying facts, to explain such as
admitted of explanation and reject the others. At one moment, indeed,
as a hymn once more resounded and carried him off with its stubborn
importunate rhythm, he ceased to be master of himself, and imagined
that he was at last beginning to believe amidst the hallucinatory
vertigo which reigned in that travelling hospital, rolling, ever
rolling onward at full speed.


THE train left Bordeaux after a stoppage of a few minutes, during which
those who had not dined hastened to purchase some provisions. Moreover,
the ailing ones were constantly drinking milk, and asking for biscuits,
like little children. And, as soon as they were off again, Sister
Hyacinthe clapped her hands, and exclaimed: “Come, let us make haste;
the evening prayer.”

Thereupon, during a quarter of an hour came a confused murmuring, made
up of “Paters” and “Aves,” self-examinations, acts of contrition, and
vows of trustful reliance in God, the Blessed Virgin, and the Saints,
with thanksgiving for protection and preservation that day, and, at
last, a prayer for the living and for the faithful departed.

“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

It was ten minutes past eight o’clock, the shades of night were already
bedimming the landscape—a vast plain which the evening mist seemed to
prolong into the infinite, and where, far away, bright dots of light
shone out from the windows of lonely, scattered houses. In the
carriage, the lights of the lamps were flickering, casting a subdued
yellow glow on the luggage and the pilgrims, who were sorely shaken by
the spreading tendency of the train’s motion.

“You know, my children,” resumed Sister Hyacinthe, who had remained
standing, “I shall order silence when we get to Lamothe, in about an
hour’s time. So you have an hour to amuse yourselves, but you must be
reasonable and not excite yourselves too much. And when we have passed
Lamothe, you hear me, there must not be another word, another sound,
you must all go to sleep.”

This made them laugh.

“Oh! but it is the rule, you know,” added the Sister, “and surely you
have too much sense not to obey me.”

Since the morning they had punctually fulfilled the programme of
religious exercises specified for each successive hour. And now that
all the prayers had been said, the beads told, the hymns chanted, the
day’s duties were over, and a brief interval for recreation was allowed
before sleeping. They were, however, at a loss as to what they should

“Sister,” suddenly said Marie, “if you would allow Monsieur l’Abbe to
read to us—he reads extremely well,—and as it happens I have a little
book with me—a history of Bernadette which is so interesting—”

The others did nor let her finish, but with the suddenly awakened
desire of children to whom a beautiful story has been promised, loudly
exclaimed: “Oh! yes, Sister. Oh! yes, Sister—”

“Of course I will allow it,” replied Sister Hyacinthe, “since it is a
question of reading something instructive and edifying.”

Pierre was obliged to consent. But to be able to read the book he
wished to be under the lamp, and it was necessary that he should change
seats with M. de Guersaint, whom the promise of a story had delighted
as much as it did the ailing ones. And when the young priest, after
changing seats and declaring that he would be able to see well enough,
at last opened the little book, a quiver of curiosity sped from one end
of the carriage to the other, and every head was stretched out, lending
ear with rapt attention. Fortunately, Pierre had a clear, powerful
voice and made himself distinctly heard above the wheels, which, now
that the train travelled across a vast level plain, gave out but a
subdued, rumbling sound.

Before beginning, however, the young priest had examined the book. It
was one of those little works of propaganda issued from the Catholic
printing-presses and circulated in profusion throughout all
Christendom. Badly printed, on wretched paper, it was adorned on its
blue cover with a little wood-cut of Our Lady of Lourdes, a naive
design alike stiff and awkward. The book itself was short, and half an
hour would certainly suffice to read it from cover to cover without

Accordingly, in his fine, clear voice, with its penetrating, musical
tones, he began his perusal as follows:—

“It happened at Lourdes, a little town near the Pyrenees, on a
Thursday, February 11, 1858. The weather was cold, and somewhat cloudy,
and in the humble home of a poor but honest miller named Francois
Soubirous there was no wood to cook the dinner. The miller’s wife,
Louise, said to her younger daughter Marie, ‘Go and gather some wood on
the bank of the Gave or on the common-land.’ The Gave is a torrent
which passes through Lourdes.

“Marie had an elder sister, named Bernadette, who had lately arrived
from the country, where some worthy villagers had employed her as a
shepherdess. She was a slender, delicate, extremely innocent child, and
knew nothing except her rosary. Louise Soubirous hesitated to send her
out with her sister, on account of the cold, but at last, yielding to
the entreaties of Marie and a young girl of the neighbourhood called
Jeanne Abadie, she consented to let her go.

“Following the bank of the torrent and gathering stray fragments of
dead wood, the three maidens at last found themselves in front of the
Grotto, hollowed out in a huge mass of rock which the people of the
district called Massabielle.”

Pierre had reached this point and was turning the page when he suddenly
paused and let the little book fall on his knees. The childish
character of the narrative, its ready-made, empty phraseology, filled
him with impatience. He himself possessed quite a collection of
documents concerning this extraordinary story, had passionately studied
even its most trifling details, and in the depths of his heart retained
a feeling of tender affection and infinite pity for Bernadette. He had
just reflected, too, that on the very next day he would be able to
begin that decisive inquiry which he had formerly dreamt of making at
Lourdes. In fact, this was one of the reasons which had induced him to
accompany Marie on her journey. And he was now conscious of an
awakening of all his curiosity respecting the Visionary, whom he loved
because he felt that she had been a girl of candid soul, truthful and
ill-fated, though at the same time he would much have liked to analyse
and explain her case. Assuredly, she had not lied, she had indeed
beheld a vision and heard voices, like Joan of Arc; and like Joan of
Arc also, she was now, in the opinion of the devout, accomplishing the
deliverance of France—from sin if not from invaders. Pierre wondered
what force could have produced her—her and her work. How was it that
the visionary faculty had become developed in that lowly girl, so
distracting believing souls as to bring about a renewal of the miracles
of primitive times, as to found almost a new religion in the midst of a
Holy City, built at an outlay of millions, and ever invaded by crowds
of worshippers more numerous and more exalted in mind than had ever
been known since the days of the Crusades?

And so, ceasing to read the book, Pierre began to tell his companions
all that he knew, all that he had divined and reconstructed of that
story which is yet so obscure despite the vast rivers of ink which it
has already caused to flow. He knew the country and its manners and
customs, through his long conversations with his friend Doctor
Chassaigne. And he was endowed with charming fluency of language, an
emotional power of exquisite purity, many remarkable gifts well fitting
him to be a pulpit orator, which he never made use of, although he had
known them to be within him ever since his seminary days. When the
occupants of the carriage perceived that he knew the story, far better
and in far greater detail than it appeared in Marie’s little book, and
that he related it also in such a gentle yet passionate way, there came
an increase of attention, and all those afflicted souls hungering for
happiness went forth towards him. First came the story of Bernadette’s
childhood at Bartres, where she had grown up in the abode of her
foster-mother, Madame Lagues, who, having lost an infant of her own,
had rendered those poor folks, the Soubirouses, the service of suckling
and keeping their child for them. Bartres, a village of four hundred
souls, at a league or so from Lourdes, lay as it were in a desert
oasis, sequestered amidst greenery, and far from any frequented
highway. The road dips down, the few houses are scattered over
grassland, divided by hedges and planted with walnut and chestnut
trees, whilst the clear rivulets, which are never silent, follow the
sloping banks beside the pathways, and nothing rises on high save the
small ancient romanesque church, which is perched on a hillock, covered
with graves. Wooded slopes undulate upon all sides. Bartres lies in a
hollow amidst grass of delicious freshness, grass of intense greenness,
which is ever moist at the roots, thanks to the eternal subterraneous
expanse of water which is fed by the mountain torrents. And Bernadette,
who, since becoming a big girl, had paid for her keep by tending lambs,
was wont to take them with her, season after season, through all the
greenery where she never met a soul. It was only now and then, from the
summit of some slope, that she saw the far-away mountains, the Pic du
Midi, the Pic de Viscos, those masses which rose up, bright or gloomy,
according to the weather, and which stretched away to other peaks,
lightly and faintly coloured, vaguely and confusedly outlined, like
apparitions seen in dreams.

Then came the home of the Lagueses, where her cradle was still
preserved, a solitary, silent house, the last of the village. A meadow
planted with pear and apple trees, and only separated from the open
country by a narrow stream which one could jump across, stretched out
in front of the house. Inside the latter, a low and damp abode, there
were, on either side of the wooden stairway leading to the loft, but
two spacious rooms, flagged with stones, and each containing four or
five beds. The girls, who slept together, fell asleep at even, gazing
at the fine pictures affixed to the walls, whilst the big clock in its
pinewood case gravely struck the hours in the midst of the deep

Ah! those years at Bartres; in what sweet peacefulness did Bernadette
live them! Yet she grew up very thin, always in bad health, suffering
from a nervous asthma which stifled her in the least veering of the
wind; and on attaining her twelfth year she could neither read nor
write, nor speak otherwise than in dialect, having remained quite
infantile, behindhand in mind as in body. She was a very good little
girl, very gentle and well behaved, and but little different from other
children, except that instead of talking she preferred to listen.
Limited as was her intelligence, she often evinced much natural
common-sense, and at times was prompt in her /reparties/, with a kind
of simple gaiety which made one smile. It was only with infinite
trouble that she was taught her rosary, and when she knew it she seemed
bent on carrying her knowledge no further, but repeated it all day
long, so that whenever you met her with her lambs, she invariably had
her chaplet between her fingers, diligently telling each successive
“Pater” and “Ave.” For long, long hours she lived like this on the
grassy slopes of the hills, hidden away and haunted as it were amidst
the mysteries of the foliage, seeing nought of the world save the
crests of the distant mountains, which, for an instant, every now and
then, would soar aloft in the radiant light, as ethereal as the peaks
of dreamland.

Days followed days, and Bernadette roamed, dreaming her one narrow
dream, repeating the sole prayer she knew, which gave her amidst her
solitude, so fresh and naively infantile, no other companion and friend
than the Blessed Virgin. But what pleasant evenings she spent in the
winter-time in the room on the left, where a fire was kept burning! Her
foster-mother had a brother, a priest, who occasionally read some
marvellous stories to them—stories of saints, prodigious adventures of
a kind to make one tremble with mingled fear and joy, in which Paradise
appeared upon earth, whilst the heavens opened and a glimpse was caught
of the splendour of the angels. The books he brought with him were
often full of pictures—God the Father enthroned amidst His glory;
Jesus, so gentle and so handsome with His beaming face; the Blessed
Virgin, who recurred again and again, radiant with splendour, clad now
in white, now in azure, now in gold, and ever so amiable that
Bernadette would see her again in her dreams. But the book which was
read more than all others was the Bible, an old Bible which had been in
the family for more than a hundred years, and which time and usage had
turned yellow. Each winter evening Bernadette’s foster-father, the only
member of the household who had learnt to read, would take a pin, pass
it at random between the leaves of the book, open the latter, and then
start reading from the top of the right-hand page, amidst the deep
attention of both the women and the children, who ended by knowing the
book by heart, and could have continued reciting it without a single

However, Bernadette, for her part, preferred the religious works in
which the Blessed Virgin constantly appeared with her engaging smile.
True, one reading of a different character amused her, that of the
marvellous story of the Four Brothers Aymon. On the yellow paper cover
of the little book, which had doubtless fallen from the bale of some
peddler who had lost his way in that remote region, there was a naive
cut showing the four doughty knights, Renaud and his brothers, all
mounted on Bayard, their famous battle charger, that princely present
made to them by the fairy Orlanda. And inside were narratives of bloody
fights, of the building and besieging of fortresses, of the terrible
swordthrusts exchanged by Roland and Renaud, who was at last about to
free the Holy Land, without mentioning the tales of Maugis the Magician
and his marvellous enchantments, and the Princess Clarisse, the King of
Aquitaine’s sister, who was more lovely than sunlight. Her imagination
fired by such stories as these, Bernadette often found it difficult to
get to sleep; and this was especially the case on the evenings when the
books were left aside, and some person of the company related a tale of
witchcraft. The girl was very superstitious, and after sundown could
never be prevailed upon to pass near a tower in the vicinity, which was
said to be haunted by the fiend. For that matter, all the folks of the
region were superstitious, devout, and simple-minded, the whole
countryside being peopled, so to say, with mysteries—trees which sang,
stones from which blood flowed, cross-roads where it was necessary to
say three “Paters” and three “Aves,” if you did not wish to meet the
seven-horned beast who carried maidens off to perdition. And what a
wealth of terrifying stories there was! Hundreds of stories, so that
there was no finishing on the evenings when somebody started them.
First came the wehrwolf adventures, the tales of the unhappy men whom
the demon forced to enter into the bodies of dogs, the great white dogs
of the mountains. If you fire a gun at the dog and a single shot should
strike him, the man will be delivered; but if the shot should fall on
the dog’s shadow, the man will immediately die. Then came the endless
procession of sorcerers and sorceresses. In one of these tales
Bernadette evinced a passionate interest; it was the story of a clerk
of the tribunal of Lourdes who, wishing to see the devil, was conducted
by a witch into an untilled field at midnight on Good Friday. The devil
arrived clad in magnificent scarlet garments, and at once proposed to
the clerk that he should buy his soul, an offer which the clerk
pretended to accept. It so happened that the devil was carrying under
his arm a register in which different persons of the town, who had
already sold themselves, had signed their names. However, the clerk,
who was a cunning fellow, pulled out of his pocket a pretended bottle
of ink, which in reality contained holy water, and with this he
sprinkled the devil, who raised frightful shrieks, whilst the clerk
took to flight, carrying the register off with him. Then began a wild,
mad race, which might last throughout the night, over the mountains,
through the valleys, across the forests and the torrents. “Give me back
my register!” shouted the fiend. “No, you sha’n’t have it!” replied the
clerk. And again and again it began afresh: “Give me back my
register!”—“No, you sha’n’t have it’!” And at last, finding himself out
of breath, near the point of succumbing, the clerk, who had his plan,
threw himself into the cemetery, which was consecrated ground, and was
there able to deride the devil at his ease, waving the register which
he had purloined so as to save the souls of all the unhappy people who
had signed their names in it. On the evening when this story was told,
Bernadette, before surrendering herself to sleep, would mentally repeat
her rosary, delighted with the thought that hell should have been
baffled, though she trembled at the idea that it would surely return to
prowl around her, as soon as the lamp should have been put out.

Throughout one winter, the long evenings were spent in the church. Abbe
Ader, the village priest, had authorised it, and many families came, in
order to economise oil and candles. Moreover, they felt less cold when
gathered together in this fashion. The Bible was read, and prayers were
repeated, whilst the children ended by falling asleep. Bernadette alone
struggled on to the finish, so pleased she was at being there, in that
narrow nave whose slender nervures were coloured blue and red. At the
farther end was the altar, also painted and gilded, with its twisted
columns and its screens on which appeared the Virgin and Ste. Anne, and
the beheading of St. John the Baptist—the whole of a gaudy and somewhat
barbaric splendour. And as sleepiness grew upon her, the child must
have often seen a mystical vision as it were of those crudely coloured
designs rising before her—have seen the blood flowing from St. John’s
severed head, have seen the aureolas shining, the Virgin ever returning
and gazing at her with her blue, living eyes, and looking as though she
were on the point of opening her vermilion lips in order to speak to
her. For some months Bernadette spent her evenings in this wise, half
asleep in front of that sumptuous, vaguely defined altar, in the
incipiency of a divine dream which she carried away with her, and
finished in bed, slumbering peacefully under the watchful care of her
guardian angel.

And it was also in that old church, so humble yet so impregnated with
ardent faith, that Bernadette began to learn her catechism. She would
soon be fourteen now, and must think of her first communion. Her
foster-mother, who had the reputation of being avaricious, did not send
her to school, but employed her in or about the house from morning till
evening. M. Barbet, the schoolmaster, never saw her at his classes,
though one day, when he gave the catechism lesson, in the place of Abbe
Ader who was indisposed, he remarked her on account of her piety and
modesty. The village priest was very fond of Bernadette and often spoke
of her to the schoolmaster, saying that he could never look at her
without thinking of the children of La Salette, since they must have
been good, candid, and pious as she was, for the Blessed Virgin to have
appeared to them.* On another occasion whilst the two men were walking
one morning near the village, and saw Bernadette disappear with her
little flock under some spreading trees in the distance, the Abbe
repeatedly turned round to look for her, and again remarked “I cannot
account for it, but every time I meet that child it seems to me as if I
saw Melanie, the young shepherdess, little Maximin’s companion.” He was
certainly beset by this singular idea, which became, so to say, a
prediction. Moreover, had he not one day after catechism, or one
evening, when the villagers were gathered in the church, related that
marvellous story which was already twelve years old, that story of the
Lady in the dazzling robes who walked upon the grass without even
making it bend, the Blessed Virgin who showed herself to Melanie and
Maximin on the banks of a stream in the mountains, and confided to them
a great secret and announced the anger of her Son? Ever since that day
a source had sprung up from the tears which she had shed, a source
which cured all ailments, whilst the secret, inscribed on parchment
fastened with three seals, slumbered at Rome! And Bernadette, no doubt,
with her dreamy, silent air, had listened passionately to that
wonderful tale and carried it off with her into the desert of foliage
where she spent her days, so that she might live it over again as she
walked along behind her lambs with her rosary, slipping bead by bead
between her slender fingers.

* It was on September 19, 1846, that the Virgin is said to have
appeared in the ravine of La Sezia, adjacent to the valley of La
Salette, between Corps and Eutraigues, in the department of the Isere.
The visionaries were Melanie Mathieu, a girl of fourteen, and Maximin
Giraud, a boy of twelve. The local clergy speedily endorsed the story
of the miracle, and thousands of people still go every year in
pilgrimage to a church overlooking the valley, and bathe and drink at a
so-called miraculous source. Two priests of Grenoble, however, Abbe
Deleon and Abbe Cartellier, accused a Mlle. de Lamerliere of having
concocted the miracle, and when she took proceedings against them for
libel she lost her case.—Trans.

Thus her childhood ran its course at Bartres. That which delighted one
in this Bernadette, so poor-blooded, so slight of build, was her
ecstatic eyes, beautiful visionary eyes, from which dreams soared aloft
like birds winging their flight in a pure limpid sky. Her mouth was
large, with lips somewhat thick, expressive of kindliness; her
square-shaped head had a straight brow, and was covered with thick
black hair, whilst her face would have seemed rather common but for its
charming expression of gentle obstinacy. Those who did not gaze into
her eyes, however, gave her no thought. To them she was but an ordinary
child, a poor thing of the roads, a girl of reluctant growth, timidly
humble in her ways. Assuredly it was in her glance that Abbe Ader had
with agitation detected the stifling ailment which filled her puny,
girlish form with suffering—that ailment born of the greeny solitude in
which she had grown up, the gentleness of her bleating lambs, the
Angelic Salutation which she had carried with her, hither and thither,
under the sky, repeating and repeating it to the point of
hallucination, the prodigious stories, too, which she had heard folks
tell at her foster-mother’s, the long evenings spent before the living
altar-screens in the church, and all the atmosphere of primitive faith
which she had breathed in that far-away rural region, hemmed in by

At last, on one seventh of January, Bernadette had just reached her
fourteenth birthday, when her parents, finding that she learnt nothing
at Bartres, resolved to bring her back to Lourdes for good, in order
that she might diligently study her catechism, and in this wise
seriously prepare herself for her first communion. And so it happened
that she had already been at Lourdes some fifteen or twenty days, when
on February 11, a Thursday, cold and somewhat cloudy—

But Pierre could carry his narrative no further, for Sister Hyacinthe
had risen to her feet and was vigorously clapping her hands. “My
children,” she exclaimed, “it is past nine o’clock. Silence! silence!”

The train had indeed just passed Lamothe, and was rolling with a dull
rumble across a sea of darkness—the endless plains of the Landes which
the night submerged. For ten minutes already not a sound ought to have
been heard in the carriage, one and all ought to have been sleeping or
suffering uncomplainingly. However, a mutiny broke out.

“Oh! Sister!” exclaimed Marie, whose eyes were sparkling, “allow us
just another short quarter of an hour! We have got to the most
interesting part.”

Ten, twenty voices took up the cry: “Oh yes, Sister, please do let us
have another short quarter of an hour!”

They all wished to hear the continuation, burning with as much
curiosity as though they had not known the story, so captivated were
they by the touches of compassionate human feeling which Pierre
introduced into his narrative. Their glances never left him, all their
heads were stretched towards him, fantastically illumined by the
flickering light of the lamps. And it was not only the sick who
displayed this interest; the ten women occupying the compartment at the
far end of the carriage had also become impassioned, and, happy at not
missing a single word, turned their poor ugly faces now beautified by
naive faith.

“No, I cannot!” Sister Hyacinthe at first declared; “the rules are very
strict—you must be silent.”

However, she weakened, she herself feeling so interested in the tale
that she could detect her heart beating under her stomacher. Then Marie
again repeated her request in an entreating tone; whilst her father, M.
de Guersaint, who had listened like one hugely amused, declared that
they would all fall ill if the story were not continued. And thereupon,
seeing Madame de Jonquiere smile with an indulgent air, Sister
Hyacinthe ended by consenting.

“Well, then,” said she, “I will allow you another short quarter of an
hour; but only a short quarter of an hour, mind. That is understood, is
it not? For I should otherwise be in fault.”

Pierre had waited quietly without attempting to intervene. And he
resumed his narrative in the same penetrating voice as before, a voice
in which his own doubts were softened by pity for those who suffer and
who hope.

The scene of the story was now transferred to Lourdes, to the Rue des
Petits Fosses, a narrow, tortuous, mournful street taking a downward
course between humble houses and roughly plastered dead walls. The
Soubirous family occupied a single room on the ground floor of one of
these sorry habitations, a room at the end of a dark passage, in which
seven persons were huddled together, the father, the mother, and five
children. You could scarcely see in the chamber; from the tiny, damp
inner courtyard of the house there came but a greenish light. And in
that room they slept, all of a heap; and there also they ate, when they
had bread. For some time past, the father, a miller by trade, could
only with difficulty obtain work as a journeyman. And it was from that
dark hole, that lowly wretchedness, that Bernadette, the elder girl,
with Marie, her sister, and Jeanne, a little friend of the
neighbourhood, went out to pick up dead wood, on the cold February
Thursday already spoken of.

Then the beautiful tale was unfolded at length; how the three girls
followed the bank of the Gave from the other side of the castle, and
how they ended by finding themselves on the Ile du Chalet in front of
the rock of Massabielle, from which they were only separated by the
narrow stream diverted from the Gave, and used for working the mill of
Savy. It was a wild spot, whither the common herdsman often brought the
pigs of the neighbourhood, which, when showers suddenly came on, would
take shelter under this rock of Massabielle, at whose base there was a
kind of grotto of no great depth, blocked at the entrance by eglantine
and brambles. The girls found dead wood very scarce that day, but at
last on seeing on the other side of the stream quite a gleaning of
branches deposited there by the torrent, Marie and Jeanne crossed over
through the water; whilst Bernadette, more delicate than they were, a
trifle young-ladyfied, perhaps, remained on the bank lamenting, and not
daring to wet her feet. She was suffering slightly from humour in the
head, and her mother had expressly bidden her to wrap herself in her
/capulet/,* a large white
/capulet/ which contrasted vividly with her old black woollen dress.
/When she
found that her companions would not help her, she resignedly made up
her mind to take off her /sabots/, and pull down her stockings. It was
then about noon, the three strokes of the Angelus rang out from the
parish church, rising into the broad calm winter sky, which was
somewhat veiled by fine fleecy clouds. And it was then that a great
agitation arose within her, resounding in her ears with such a
tempestuous roar that she fancied a hurricane had descended from the
mountains, and was passing over her. But she looked at the trees and
was stupefied, for not a leaf was stirring. Then she thought that she
had been mistaken, and was about to pick up her /sabots/, when again
the great gust swept through her; but, this time, the disturbance in
her ears reached her eyes, she no longer saw the trees, but was dazzled
by a whiteness, a kind of bright light which seemed to her to settle
itself against the rock, in a narrow, lofty slit above the Grotto, not
unlike an ogival window of a cathedral. In her fright she fell upon her
knees. What could it be, /mon Dieu/? Sometimes, during bad weather,
when her asthma oppressed her more than usual, she spent very bad
nights, incessantly dreaming dreams which were often painful, and whose
stifling effect she retained on awaking, even when she had ceased to
remember anything. Flames would surround her, the sun would flash
before her face. Had she dreamt in that fashion during the previous
night? Was this the continuation of some forgotten dream? However,
little by little a form became outlined, she believed that she could
distinguish a figure which the vivid light rendered intensely white. In
her fear lest it should be the devil, for her mind was haunted by tales
of witchcraft, she began to tell her beads. And when the light had
slowly faded away, and she had crossed the canal and joined Marie and
Jeanne, she was surprised to find that neither of them had seen
anything whilst they were picking up the wood in front of the Grotto.
On their way back to Lourdes the three girls talked together. So she,
Bernadette, had seen something then? What was it? At first, feeling
uneasy, and somewhat ashamed, she would not answer; but at last she
said that she had seen something white.

* This is a kind of hood, more generally known among the Bearnese
peasantry as a /sarot/. Whilst forming a coif it also completely covers
the back and shoulders.—Trans.

From this the rumours started and grew. The Soubirouses, on being made
acquainted with the circumstance, evinced much displeasure at such
childish nonsense, and told their daughter that she was not to return
to the rock of Massabielle. All the children of the neighbourhood,
however, were already repeating the tale, and when Sunday came the
parents had to give way, and allow Bernadette to betake herself to the
Grotto with a bottle of holy water to ascertain if it were really the
devil whom one had to deal with. She then again beheld the light, the
figure became more clearly defined, and smiled upon her, evincing no
fear whatever of the holy water. And, on the ensuing Thursday, she once
more returned to the spot accompanied by several persons, and then for
the first time the radiant lady assumed sufficient corporality to
speak, and say to her: “Do me the kindness to come here for fifteen

Thus, little by little, the lady had assumed a precise appearance. The
something clad in white had become indeed a lady more beautiful than a
queen, of a kind such as is only seen in pictures. At first, in
presence of the questions with which all the neighbours plied her from
morning till evening, Bernadette had hesitated, disturbed, perhaps, by
scruples of conscience. But then, as though prompted by the very
interrogatories to which she was subjected, she seemed to perceive the
figure which she had beheld, more plainly, so that it definitely
assumed life, with lines and hues from which the child, in her
after-descriptions, never departed. The lady’s eyes were blue and very
mild, her mouth was rosy and smiling, the oval of her face expressed
both the grace of youth and of maternity. Below the veil covering her
head and falling to her heels, only a glimpse was caught of her
admirable fair hair, which was slightly curled. Her robe, which was of
dazzling whiteness, must have been of some material unknown on earth,
some material woven of the sun’s rays. Her sash, of the same hue as the
heavens, was fastened loosely about her, its long ends streaming
downwards, with the light airiness of morning. Her chaplet, wound about
her right arm, had beads of a milky whiteness, whilst the links and the
cross were of gold. And on her bare feet, on her adorable feet of
virgin snow, flowered two golden roses, the mystic roses of this divine
mother’s immaculate flesh.

Where was it that Bernadette had seen this Blessed Virgin, of such
traditionally simple composition, unadorned by a single jewel, having
but the primitive grace imagined by the painters of a people in its
childhood? In which illustrated book belonging to her foster-mother’s
brother, the good priest, who read such attractive stories, had she
beheld this Virgin? Or in what picture, or what statuette, or what
stained-glass window of the painted and gilded church where she had
spent so many evenings whilst growing up? And whence, above all things,
had come those golden roses poised on the Virgin’s feet, that piously
imagined florescence of woman’s flesh—from what romance of chivalry,
from what story told after catechism by the Abbe Ader, from what
unconscious dream indulged in under the shady foliage of Bartres,
whilst ever and ever repeating that haunting Angelic Salutation?

Pierre’s voice had acquired a yet more feeling tone, for if he did not
say all these things to the simple-minded folks who were listening to
him, still the human explanation of all these prodigies which the
feeling of doubt in the depths of his being strove to supply, imparted
to his narrative a quiver of sympathetic, fraternal love. He loved
Bernadette the better for the great charm of her hallucination—that
lady of such gracious access, such perfect amiability, such politeness
in appearing and disappearing so appropriately. At first the great
light would show itself, then the vision took form, came and went,
leant forward, moved about, floating imperceptibly, with ethereal
lightness; and when it vanished the glow lingered for yet another
moment, and then disappeared like a star fading away. No lady in this
world could have such a white and rosy face, with a beauty so akin to
that of the Virgins on the picture-cards given to children at their
first communions. And it was strange that the eglantine of the Grotto
did not even hurt her adorable bare feet blooming with golden flowers.

Pierre, however, at once proceeded to recount the other apparitions.
The fourth and fifth occurred on the Friday and the Saturday; but the
Lady, who shone so brightly and who had not yet told her name,
contented herself on these occasions with smiling and saluting without
pronouncing a word. On the Sunday, however, she wept, and said to
Bernadette, “Pray for sinners.” On the Monday, to the child’s great
grief, she did not appear, wishing, no doubt, to try her. But on the
Tuesday she confided to her a secret which concerned her (the girl)
alone, a secret which she was never to divulge*; and then she at last
told her what mission it was that she entrusted to her: “Go and tell
the priests,” she said, “that they must build a chapel here.” On the
Wednesday she frequently murmured the word “Penitence! penitence!
penitence!” which the child repeated, afterwards kissing the earth. On
the Thursday the Lady said to her: “Go, and drink, and wash at the
spring, and eat of the grass that is beside it,” words which the
Visionary ended by understanding, when in the depths of the Grotto a
source suddenly sprang up beneath her fingers. And this was the miracle
of the enchanted fountain.

* In a like way, it will be remembered, the apparition at La Salette
confided a secret to Melanie and Maximin (see /ante/, note). There can
be little doubt that Bernadette was acquainted with the story of the
miracle of La Salette.—Trans.

Then the second week ran its course. The lady did not appear on the
Friday, but was punctual on the five following days, repeating her
commands and gazing with a smile at the humble girl whom she had chosen
to do her bidding, and who, on her side, duly told her beads at each
apparition, kissed the earth, and repaired on her knees to the source,
there to drink and wash. At last, on Thursday, March 4, the last day of
these mystical assignations, the Lady requested more pressingly than
before that a chapel might be erected in order that the nations might
come thither in procession from all parts of the earth. So far,
however, in reply to all Bernadette’s appeals, she had refused to say
who she was; and it was only three weeks later, on Thursday, March 25,
that, joining her hands together, and raising her eyes to Heaven, she
said: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” On two other occasions, at
somewhat long intervals, April 7 and July l6, she again appeared: the
first time to perform the miracle of the lighted taper, that taper
above which the child, plunged in ecstasy, for a long time
unconsciously left her hand, without burning it; and the second time to
bid Bernadette farewell, to favour her with a last smile, and a last
inclination of the head full of charming politeness. This made eighteen
apparitions all told; and never again did the Lady show herself.

Whilst Pierre went on with his beautiful, marvellous story, so soothing
to the wretched, he evoked for himself a vision of that pitiable,
lovable Bernadette, whose sufferings had flowered so wonderfully. As a
doctor had roughly expressed it, this girl of fourteen, at a critical
period of her life, already ravaged, too, by asthma, was, after all,
simply an exceptional victim of hysteria, afflicted with a degenerate
heredity and lapsing into infancy. If there were no violent crises in
her case, if there were no stiffening of the muscles during her
attacks, if she retained a precise recollection of her dreams, the
reason was that her case was peculiar to herself, and she added, so to
say, a new and very curious form to all the forms of hysteria known at
the time. Miracles only begin when things cannot be explained; and
science, so far, knows and can explain so little, so infinitely do the
phenomena of disease vary according to the nature of the patient! But
how many shepherdesses there had been before Bernadette who had seen
the Virgin in a similar way, amidst all the same childish nonsense! Was
it not always the same story, the Lady clad in light, the secret
confided, the spring bursting forth, the mission which had to be
fulfilled, the miracles whose enchantments would convert the masses?
And was not the personal appearance of the Virgin always in accordance
with a poor child’s dreams—akin to some coloured figure in a missal, an
ideal compounded of traditional beauty, gentleness, and politeness. And
the same dreams showed themselves in the naivete of the means which
were to be employed and of the object which was to be attained—the
deliverance of nations, the building of churches, the processional
pilgrimages of the faithful! Then, too, all the words which fell from
Heaven resembled one another, calls for penitence, promises of help;
and in this respect, in Bernadette’s case the only new feature was that
most extraordinary declaration: “I am the Immaculate Conception,” which
burst forth—very usefully—as the recognition by the Blessed Virgin
herself of the dogma promulgated by the Court of Rome but three years
previously! It was not the Immaculate Virgin who appeared: no, it was
the Immaculate Conception, the abstraction itself, the thing, the
dogma, so that one might well ask oneself if really the Virgin had
spoken in such a fashion. As for the other words, it was possible that
Bernadette had heard them somewhere and stored them up in some
unconscious nook of her memory. But these—“I am the Immaculate
Conception”—whence had they come as though expressly to fortify a
dogma—still bitterly discussed—with such prodigious support as the
direct testimony of the Mother conceived without sin? At this thought,
Pierre, who was convinced of Bernadette’s absolute good faith, who
refused to believe that she had been the instrument of a fraud, began
to waver, deeply agitated, feeling his belief in truth totter within

The apparitions, however, had caused intense emotion at Lourdes; crowds
flocked to the spot, miracles began, and those inevitable persecutions
broke out which ensure the triumph of new religions. Abbe Peyramale,
the parish priest of Lourdes, an extremely honest man, with an upright,
vigorous mind, was able in all truth to declare that he did not know
this child, that she had not yet been seen at catechism. Where was the
pressure, then, where the lesson learnt by heart? There was nothing but
those years of childhood spent at Bartres, the first teachings of Abbe
Ader, conversations possibly, religious ceremonies in honour of the
recently proclaimed dogma, or simply the gift of one of those
commemorative medals which had been scattered in profusion. Never did
Abbe Ader reappear upon the scene, he who had predicted the mission of
the future Visionary. He was destined to remain apart from Bernadette
and her future career, he who, the first, had seen her little soul
blossom in his pious hands. And yet all the unknown forces that had
sprung from that sequestered village, from that nook of greenery where
superstition and poverty of intelligence prevailed, were still making
themselves felt, disturbing the brains of men, disseminating the
contagion of the mysterious. It was remembered that a shepherd of
Argeles, speaking of the rock of Massabielle, had prophesied that great
things would take place there. Other children, moreover, now fell in
ecstasy with their eyes dilated and their limbs quivering with
convulsions, but these only saw the devil. A whirlwind of madness
seemed to be passing over the region. An old lady of Lourdes declared
that Bernadette was simply a witch and that she had herself seen the
toad’s foot in her eye. But for the others, for the thousands of
pilgrims who hastened to the spot, she was a saint, and they kissed her
garments. Sobs burst forth and frenzy seemed to seize upon the souls of
the beholders, when she fell upon her knees before the Grotto, a
lighted taper in her right hand, whilst with the left she told the
beads of her rosary. She became very pale and quite beautiful,
transfigured, so to say. Her features gently ascended in her face,
lengthened into an expression of extraordinary beatitude, whilst her
eyes filled with light, and her lips parted as though she were speaking
words which could not be heard. And it was quite certain that she had
no will of her own left her, penetrated as she was by a dream,
possessed by it to such a point in the confined, exclusive sphere in
which she lived, that she continued dreaming it even when awake, and
thus accepted it as the only indisputable reality, prepared to testify
to it even at the cost of her blood, repeating it over and over again,
obstinately, stubbornly clinging to it, and never varying in the
details she gave. She did not lie, for she did not know, could not and
would not desire anything apart from it.

Forgetful of the flight of time, Pierre was now sketching a charming
picture of old Lourdes, that pious little town, slumbering at the foot
of the Pyrenees. The castle, perched on a rock at the point of
intersection of the seven valleys of Lavedan, had formerly been the key
of the mountain districts. But, in Bernadette’s time, it had become a
mere dismantled, ruined pile, at the entrance of a road leading
nowhere. Modern life found its march stayed by a formidable rampart of
lofty, snow-capped peaks, and only the trans-Pyrenean railway—had it
been constructed—could have established an active circulation of social
life in that sequestered nook where human existence stagnated like dead
water. Forgotten, therefore, Lourdes remained slumbering, happy and
sluggish amidst its old-time peacefulness, with its narrow,
pebble-paved streets and its bleak houses with dressings of marble. The
old roofs were still all massed on the eastern side of the castle; the
Rue de la Grotte, then called the Rue du Bois, was but a deserted and
often impassable road; no houses stretched down to the Gave as now, and
the scum-laden waters rolled through a perfect solitude of pollard
willows and tall grass. On week-days but few people passed across the
Place du Marcadal, such as housewives hastening on errands, and petty
cits airing their leisure hours; and you had to wait till Sundays or
fair days to find the inhabitants rigged out in their best clothes and
assembled on the Champ Commun, in company with the crowd of graziers
who had come down from the distant tablelands with their cattle. During
the season when people resort to the Pyrenean-waters, the passage of
the visitors to Cauterets and Bagneres also brought some animation;
/diligences/ passed through the town twice a day, but they came from
Pau by a wretched road, and had to ford the Lapaca, which often
overflowed its banks. Then climbing the steep ascent of the Rue Basse,
they skirted the terrace of the church, which was shaded by large elms.
And what soft peacefulness prevailed in and around that old
semi-Spanish church, full of ancient carvings, columns, screens, and
statues, peopled with visionary patches of gilding and painted flesh,
which time had mellowed and which you faintly discerned as by the light
of mystical lamps! The whole population came there to worship, to fill
their eyes with the dream of the mysterious. There were no unbelievers,
the inhabitants of Lourdes were a people of primitive faith; each
corporation marched behind the banner of its saint, brotherhoods of all
kinds united the entire town, on festival mornings, in one large
Christian family. And, as with some exquisite flower that has grown in
the soil of its choice, great purity of life reigned there. There was
not even a resort of debauchery for young men to wreck their lives, and
the girls, one and all, grew up with the perfume and beauty of
innocence, under the eyes of the Blessed Virgin, Tower of Ivory and
Seat of Wisdom.

And how well one could understand that Bernadette, born in that holy
soil, should flower in it, like one of nature’s roses budding in the
wayside bushes! She was indeed the very florescence of that region of
ancient belief and rectitude; she would certainly not have sprouted
elsewhere; she could only appear and develop there, amidst that belated
race, amidst the slumberous peacefulness of a childlike people, under
the moral discipline of religion. And what intense love at once burst
forth all around her! What blind confidence was displayed in her
mission, what immense consolation and hope came to human hearts on the
very morrow of the first miracles! A long cry of relief had greeted the
cure of old Bourriette recovering his sight, and of little Justin
Bouhohorts coming to life again in the icy water of the spring. At
last, then, the Blessed Virgin was intervening in favour of those who
despaired, forcing that unkind mother, Nature, to be just and
charitable. This was divine omnipotence returning to reign on earth,
sweeping the laws of the world aside in order to work the happiness of
the suffering and the poor. The miracles multiplied, blazed forth, from
day to day more and more extraordinary, like unimpeachable proof of
Bernadette’s veracity. And she was, indeed, the rose of the divine
garden, whose deeds shed perfume, the rose who beholds all the other
flowers of grace and salvation spring into being around her.

Pierre had reached this point of his story, and was again enumerating
the miracles, on the point of recounting the prodigious triumph of the
Grotto, when Sister Hyacinthe, awaking with a start from the ecstasy
into which the narrative had plunged her, hastily rose to her feet.
“Really, really,” said she, “there is no sense in it. It will soon be
eleven o’clock.”

This was true. They had left Morceux behind them, and would now soon be
at Mont de Marsan. So Sister Hyacinthe clapped her hands once more, and
added: “Silence, my children, silence!”

This time they did not dare to rebel, for they felt she was in the
right; they were unreasonable. But how greatly they regretted not
hearing the continuation, how vexed they were that the story should
cease when only half told! The ten women in the farther compartment
even let a murmur of disappointment escape them; whilst the sick, their
faces still outstretched, their dilated eyes gazing upon the light of
hope, seemed to be yet listening. Those miracles which ever and ever
returned to their minds and filled them with unlimited, haunting,
supernatural joy.

“And don’t let me hear anyone breathe, even,” added Sister Hyacinthe
gaily, “or otherwise I shall impose penance on you.”

Madame de Jonquiere laughed good-naturedly. “You must obey, my
children,” she said; “be good and get to sleep, so that you may have
strength to pray at the Grotto to-morrow with all your hearts.”

Then silence fell, nobody spoke any further; and the only sounds were
those of the rumbling of the wheels and the jolting of the train as it
was carried along at full speed through the black night.

Pierre, however, was unable to sleep. Beside him, M. de Guersaint was
already snoring lightly, looking very happy despite the hardness of his
seat. For a time the young priest saw Marie’s eyes wide open, still
full of all the radiance of the marvels that he had related. For a long
while she kept them ardently fixed upon his own, but at last closed
them, and then he knew not whether she was sleeping, or with eyelids
simply closed was living the everlasting miracle over again. Some of
the sufferers were dreaming aloud, giving vent to bursts of laughter
which unconscious moans interrupted. Perhaps they beheld the Archangels
opening their flesh to wrest their diseases from them. Others, restless
with insomnia, turned over and over, stifling their sobs and gazing
fixedly into the darkness. And, with a shudder born of all the mystery
he had evoked, Pierre, distracted, no longer master of himself in that
delirious sphere of fraternal suffering, ended by hating his very mind,
and, drawn into close communion with all those humble folks, sought to
believe like them. What could be the use of that physiological inquiry
into Bernadette’s case, so full of gaps and intricacies? Why should he
not accept her as a messenger from the spheres beyond, as one of the
elect chosen for the divine mystery? Doctors were but ignorant men with
rough and brutal hands, and it would be so delightful to fall asleep in
childlike faith, in the enchanted gardens of the impossible. And for a
moment indeed he surrendered himself, experiencing a delightful feeling
of comfort, no longer seeking to explain anything, but accepting the
Visionary with her sumptuous /cortege/ of miracles, and relying on God
to think and determine for him. Then he looked out through the window,
which they did not dare to open on account of the consumptive patients,
and beheld the immeasurable night which enwrapped the country across
which the train was fleeing. The storm must have burst forth there; the
sky was now of an admirable nocturnal purity, as though cleansed by the
masses of fallen water. Large stars shone out in the dark velvet, alone
illumining, with their mysterious gleams, the silent, refreshed fields,
which incessantly displayed only the black solitude of slumber. And
across the Landes, through the valleys, between the hills, that
carriage of wretchedness and suffering rolled on and on, over-heated,
pestilential, rueful, and wailing, amidst the serenity of the august
night, so lovely and so mild.

They had passed Riscle at one in the morning. Between the jolting, the
painful, the hallucinatory silence still continued. At two o’clock, as
they reached Vic-de-Bigorre, low moans were heard; the bad state of the
line, with the unbearable spreading tendency of the train’s motion, was
sorely shaking the patients. It was only at Tarbes, at half-past two,
that silence was at length broken, and that morning prayers were said,
though black night still reigned around them. There came first the
“Pater,” and then the “Ave,” the “Credo,” and the supplication to God
to grant them the happiness of a glorious day.

“O God, vouchsafe me sufficient strength that I may avoid all that is
evil, do all that is good, and suffer uncomplainingly every pain.”

And now there was to be no further stoppage until they reached Lourdes.
Barely three more quarters of an hour, and Lourdes, with all its vast
hopes, would blaze forth in the midst of that night, so long and cruel.
Their painful awakening was enfevered by the thought; a final agitation
arose amidst the morning discomfort, as the abominable sufferings began

Sister Hyacinthe, however, was especially anxious about the strange
man, whose sweat-covered face she had been continually wiping. He had
so far managed to keep alive, she watching him without a pause, never
having once closed her eyes, but unremittingly listening to his faint
breathing with the stubborn desire to take him to the holy Grotto
before he died.

All at once, however, she felt frightened; and addressing Madame de
Jonquiere, she hastily exclaimed, “Pray pass me the vinegar bottle at
once—I can no longer hear him breathe.”

For an instant, indeed, the man’s faint breathing had ceased. His eyes
were still closed, his lips parted; he could not have been paler, he
had an ashen hue, and was cold. And the carriage was rolling along with
its ceaseless rattle of coupling-irons; the speed of the train seemed
even to have increased.

“I will rub his temples,” resumed Sister Hyacinthe. “Help me, do!”

But, at a more violent jolt of the train, the man suddenly fell from
the seat, face downward.

“Ah! /mon Dieu/, help me, pick him up!”

They picked him up, and found him dead. And they had to seat him in his
corner again, with his back resting against the woodwork. He remained
there erect, his torso stiffened, and his head wagging slightly at each
successive jolt. Thus the train continued carrying him along, with the
same thundering noise of wheels, while the engine, well pleased, no
doubt, to be reaching its destination, began whistling shrilly, giving
vent to quite a flourish of delirious joy as it sped through the calm

And then came the last and seemingly endless half-hour of the journey,
in company with that wretched corpse. Two big tears had rolled down
Sister Hyacinthe’s cheeks, and with her hands joined she had begun to
pray. The whole carriage shuddered with terror at sight of that
terrible companion who was being taken, too late alas! to the Blessed

Hope, however, proved stronger than sorrow or pain, and although all
the sufferings there assembled awoke and grew again, irritated by
overwhelming weariness, a song of joy nevertheless proclaimed the
sufferers’ triumphal entry into the Land of Miracles. Amidst the tears
which their pains drew from them, the exasperated and howling sick
began to chant the “Ave maris Stella” with a growing clamour in which
lamentation finally turned into cries of hope.

Marie had again taken Pierre’s hand between her little feverish
fingers. “Oh, /mon Dieu!/” said she, “to think that poor man is dead,
and I feared so much that it was I who would die before arriving. And
we are there—there at last!”

The priest was trembling with intense emotion. “It means that you are
to be cured, Marie,” he replied, “and that I myself shall be cured if
you pray for me—”

The engine was now whistling in a yet louder key in the depths of the
bluish darkness. They were nearing their destination. The lights of
Lourdes already shone out on the horizon. Then the whole train again
sang a canticle—the rhymed story of Bernadette, that endless ballad of
six times ten couplets, in which the Angelic Salutation ever returns as
a refrain, all besetting and distracting, opening to the human mind the
portals of the heaven of ecstasy:—

  “It was the hour for ev’ning pray’r;
   Soft bells chimed on the chilly air.
                    Ave, ave, ave Maria!

  “The maid stood on the torrent’s bank,
   A breeze arose, then swiftly sank.
                    Ave, ave, ave Maria!

  “And she beheld, e’en as it fell,
   The Virgin on Massabielle.
                    Ave, ave, ave Maria!

  “All white appeared the Lady chaste,
   A zone of Heaven round her waist.
                    Ave, ave, ave Maria!

  “Two golden roses, pure and sweet,
   Bloomed brightly on her naked feet.
                    Ave, ave, ave Maria!

  “Upon her arm, so white and round,
   Her chaplet’s milky pearls were wound.
                    Ave, ave, ave Maria!

  “The maiden prayed till, from her eyes,
   The vision sped to Paradise.
                    Ave, ave, ave Maria!”

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "The Three Cities Trilogy: Lourdes, Volume 1" ***

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